Send to

Choose Destination
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2001;(2):CD000561.

Antidepressant versus placebo for depressed elderly.

Author information

Psychiatry, University of Liverpool, EMI Academic Unit, St Catherine's Hospital, Church Road, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK, CH42 OLQ.



Depression warranting intervention is found in ten percent of people over the age of 60. Older depressed people are more likely to die than non-depressed. Relatively few receive therapeutic interventions, and those that do, tend to receive low dose antidepressant therapy. Depression in older people is thought to differ in terms of aetiology, presentation, treatment and outcome than in younger people. Concomitant physical illness and increasing social, physical and neurophysiological diversity are associated with the ageing process. Consequently drug treatment of older patients is often carried out in institutions and on patients suffering from multiple physical problems.


To determine the efficacy of antidepressant medication compared with placebo in the treatment of depression in older patients.


The search strategy incorporated: electronic literature searches of databases held by the Cochrane Collaboration Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Review Group (CCDAN) (see Collaborative Review Group Search Strategy). Reference lists of related reviews and references of located studies. Contact was made with authors working in the field.


All randomised, placebo controlled trials using antidepressants in the treatment of the presenting episode of depression in patients described as elderly, geriatric senile or older adult.


Two types of data were extracted (if available) from each study. The first type of data was dichotomous data, this consisted of recovered/not recovered. The second, continuous data,included: Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D), Montgomery-Asberg Rating Scale (MADRS) and other depression rating scale scores. An analysis using Peto Odds ratios for the dichotomous data and weighted mean difference for continuous data was performed using RevMan 3.1. The presence of heterogeneity of treatment effect was assessed.


Seventeen trials contributed data to the analyses comparing the efficacy of antidepressant treatment and placebo. Analyses of efficacy was based on 245 patients treated with TCAs (223 with placebo), 365 patients treated with SSRIs (372 with placebo) and 58 patients treated with MAOIs (63 with placebo). The standardised effect size for the three groups respectively were: TCAs; OR: 0.32 (0.21,0.47), SSRIs; OR; 0.51 (0.36,0.72), MAOIs: 0.17 (0.07,0.39).


TCAs, SSRIs and MAOIs are effective in the treatment of older community patients and inpatients likely to have severe physical illness. At least six weeks of antidepressant treatment is recommended to achieve optimal therapeutic effect. There is little evidence concerning the efficacy of low dose TCA treatment. Further trials are required before low dose TCA treatment is routinely recommended.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center