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Easing Depression in Older Adults

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June 2023






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Depression is common among older adults. But treatment with the standard type of drugs, called antidepressants, doesn’t always work. When depression remains after trying a couple of these drugs, it hasn’t been clear what approach might be best.

Researchers studied over 600 adults, ages 60 and older, who had hard-to-treat depression. Participants were divided into three groups. One group added the drug aripiprazole (Abilify) to their prescribed antidepressant. The second group added an antidepressant called bupropion (Wellbutrin). The third group stopped taking their prescribed antidepressant and switched to bupropion.

After 10 weeks, the group that added aripiprazole showed the most improvements. They had a significant increase in well-being compared with the group that switched to bupropion. The groups with either of the added drugs had less depression symptoms than the group that switched to bupropion. Symptoms improved in 29% of patients with added aripiprazole and 28% of patients with added bupropion. But they improved in only 19% of those who switched to bupropion.

“Often, unless a patient responds to the first treatment prescribed for depression, physicians follow a pattern in which they try one treatment after another until they land on an effective medication,” says lead researcher Dr. Eric J. Lenze of the Washington University in St. Louis. “It would be beneficial to have an evidence-based strategy we can rely on to help patients feel better as quickly as possible.”

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