Too many older people given ‘antidepressants instead of therapy’

GPs are giving too many older people antidepressants when they are struggling with depression, and should prescribe talking therapies far more often, according to new research.

Family doctors too often avoid talking to patients over the age of 65 about depression and do not have the time to explore and treat the condition properly, the study found.

Almost one in 10 over-75s are thought to suffer from depression, while almost four in 10 (37.4%) exhibit some symptoms. However, the vast majority, 87%, are treated with medication, even though it often does not help, according to the findings.

Too often GPs dismiss talking therapies as a way of tackling depression in older people, partly because there are long waiting times to start treatment, according to the paper, which has been published in the British Journal of General Practice.

NHS Digital figures show that although 1.4 million people of all ages were referred for help to NHS Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) in 2017/18, just 91,117 of them (6.3%) were aged over 65.

Similarly, while 1 million of all those referred started talking therapies treatment, only 74,503, or 7.4%, of those were over 65.

Even though evidence shows that talking therapies help older people with depression, they are twice as likely as younger people to be treated with antidepressants.

Those aged over 85 are five times less likely than 55 to 59-year-olds to receive psychological help. In some areas, as few as 3.5% of over-65s are recommended to see a therapist to undergo a course of cognitive behaviour therapy.

“There needs to be greater access to talking therapies. They are effective in older populations, but we know that GPs are less likely to refer those in their 80s to psychological therapies for depressive symptoms than those in their 50s and 60s,” said Rachael Frost, an academic at University College London and the lead author of the paper.

 

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