Frequently Asked Questions

16. Is medication or psychotherapy more effective in treating depression in older adults?

Many older adults prefer to get counseling or psychotherapy for depression rather than add more medications to those they are already taking for other conditions. Research suggests that for older adults, psychotherapy is just as likely to be an effective first treatment for depression as taking an antidepressant. There is a great deal of evidence indicating that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), including a version called problem solving therapy, may be an especially useful type of psychotherapy for treating older adults and improving their quality of life.

However, a practical issue to consider when deciding on treatment is that it may be harder for many older people to find or be able to travel to meetings with a well-trained psychotherapist than to get a prescription for antidepressant medication from their primary care doctor. Also, some research suggests that treatment with medication may be more effective if the depression is quite severe or if the older adult is coping with other serious illnesses.

Overall, research has suggested that, when possible, a combination of medication and psychotherapy treatment is likely to be most effective in treating depression in older adults and, in particular, for reducing the number of new episodes.