Effectiveness of treatments for depression in older people

Cathy J Frazer, Helen Christensen and Kathleen M Griffiths
Med J Aust 2005; 182 (12): 627-632.


Objective: To conduct a systematic review of the evidence for the effectiveness of a range of possible treatments for depression in older people.

Data sources: Literature search using the PubMed, PsycInfo and Cochrane Library databases.

Data synthesis: Treatments that have been suggested to be effective for depression were grouped under three categories: medical treatments, psychological treatments, and lifestyle changes/alternative treatments. We describe each treatment, review the studies of its effectiveness in people aged ≥ 60 years, and give a rating of the level of evidence.

Conclusions: The treatments with the best evidence of effectiveness are antidepressants, electroconvulsive therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, reminiscence therapy, problem-solving therapy, bibliotherapy (for mild to moderate depression) and exercise. There is limited evidence to support the effectiveness of transcranial magnetic stimulation, dialectical behaviour therapy, interpersonal therapy, light therapy (for people in nursing homes or hospitals), St John’s wort and folate in reducing depressive symptoms.

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  • Cathy J Frazer1
  • Helen Christensen2
  • Kathleen M Griffiths3

  • Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT.



Funding was provided by a grant from beyondblue: the national depression initiative for the e-prevention project and by a program grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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