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Clin Geriatr Med. 1992 May;8(2):323-34.

Using tricyclic antidepressants in the elderly.

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  • Department of Psychiatry, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, New York.


Only a few of the eight tricyclic antidepressants available today have been studied systematically in the elderly. Tertiary amine tricyclics such as amitriptyline and imipramine have been reported to be effective in depressed geriatric patients, but because of their potential for side effects, it is not advisable to use them in the elderly. Desipramine has a less toxic side effect profile, especially with respect to anticholinergic effects, but its efficacy has not been well studied. This does not mean, however, that it is not an effective drug for the elderly depressed. Nortriptyline is the tricyclic that has been the most studied. The results of those studies show that it should be recommended as an antidepressant for older patients. It is effective in both the acute and continuation treatment of depression in the elderly. As far as its use in maintenance treatment, the results are mixed but at this moment there is nothing with which to compare it. It has a favorable side effect profile: low anticholinergic activity; relatively few cardiac side effects, even in patients with preexisting cardiac disease; and relatively less orthostatic hypotension. Nortriptyline also has the virtue of an established therapeutic range for its steady-state plasma level. The role of its 10-hydroxy metabolite needs to be further explored, but when its contribution to efficacy and toxicity is better understood, it may be possible to use nortriptyline in a more precise and safe way in elderly patients. The bulk of evidence suggests, partly by default, that nortriptyline should probably the tricyclic-of-first-choice in treating an elderly patient with major depression.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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