Understanding depression in later life

A new Australian study is one of the first in the world to compare different treatments for depression in older adults with one or more chronic health conditions.

Louise Sharpe is examining the role of late onset depression in older adults with a range of health problems.

Researchers are seeking participants for a new study into the treatment of depression in older people with a range of health problems.

Louise Sharpe, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Sydney, is examining the role of late onset depression in Australian adults over 65 years, in a study part funded by beyondblue. 

Professor Sharpe said that depression was not a normal part of ageing and while the links between deteriorating health and depression were clear, the study would be one of the first in the world to compare different treatments for depression in older adults with one or more chronic health conditions.

“Our elderly citizens deserve this research so we can get a much better understanding of the best treatment options for depression in later life,” she said. “We also need to take pressure off an overloaded health system.”

Australia’s ageing population is giving rise to greater numbers of people living with one or more chronic health problems. Studies have previously found that 83 per cent of individuals over the age of 75 years have more than one health problem, according to the researchers.

Research has also shown that the presence of health problems in this age group is associated with poorer psychological health. Chronic health problems also lead to a greater risk of developing clinical depression, requiring professional medical intervention.

“Despite the relationship between health and depression being well established and the large numbers of older people with multiple health problems, most of the research trials have not looked at individuals with more than one condition,” said Professor Sharpe.

There are a number of effective therapies for older people suffering from low mood and the study will compare two approaches which have proven to be highly effective – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and problem solving therapy.

CBT focuses on changing unhelpful beliefs and increasing activity, while problem solving therapy focuses on dealing with the problems associated with daily life and increasing goal-directed activity.

“The difference between the two is that CBT focuses specifically on people’s beliefs, while problem-solving tries to teach people skills in identifying and solving common problems,” said Professor Sharpe.

Until now these treatments have not been compared to each other, nor have they included participants in primary care with more than one chronic illness, she said.

The research trial, named PROMISE-D, is currently recruiting participants and requires the support of GPs who are willing to have their patients aged over 65 years screened for depression.

Doctors or individuals interested in taking part in the trial, which ends in December 2014, can email promise@psych.usyd.edu.au or call (02) 9351 4257.

Today’s call for participants for the new study coincided with World Mental Health Day, which is an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health and this year focussed on the mental health of older people.

To mark the day, the Mental Health Council of Australia asked people working in aged care to get involved by making a meaningful and achievable mental health promise and post it on the event’s website.

Read AAA’s story on that initiative

Tags: ageing, depression, illness, mental-health, mental-health-and-ageing, mental-health-council-of-australia, research, study, university-of-sydney, world-mental-health-day,

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