A two-year study was conducted by the psychiatrist Dr Charles Reynolds at the University of Pittsburgh which was backed by the National Institutes of Health .
The study's main aim was to analyze the effect of treating depression using drugs and psychotherapy among elderly people. It is one of the longest studies ever in patients so old. It encouraged some doctors to prescribe antidepressants for longer periods, perhaps even for life, in patients who have been depressed. Taking tablets for depression is similar to taking medicines for controlling blood pressure or diabetes. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Depression accounts for about 3-5% of the elderly population.
It returns more than half the time within three years. Psychotherapy, exercise and socializing are viewed as effective long-term shields. But in this study it proved to be wrong. Psychiatrists fight back saying that patients in this study had undergone biological changes in their brains with aging and lost some mental capabilities, making them benefit more from drugs and less from talking therapy. It was also mentioned that psychotherapy in this study was given only once a month for 45 minutes. The two-year study studied 116 people aged 70 and above after they recovered from an episode of depression.
They were then randomly assigned to take an anti-depression drug, the drug plus psychotherapy, psychotherapy with dummy pills, or dummy pills alone. The results of the study were that about one third relapsed into depression with drugs, whether they got psychotherapy or not. More than two-thirds went in to depression who took psychotherapy and dummy pills, and slightly less number of people went in to depression who took dummy pills alone.
Though the numbers are small, experts say that it is difficult to recruit elderly volunteers for such research. The commonly prescribed class of depression drugs is SSRIs. This results in sedation and cause weight gain or sexual problems. Some researches say that it aggravates the tendency to commit suicide.