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Treating Depression in Elderly Helps Body Too

With a Healthier Mind Comes a Body That Works Better, Study Shows

Look for Physical and Mental Results continued...

Patients assigned to specialists were more likely to improve in overall physical functioning and typical tasks of daily life, says Callahan. Specifically, managing money and managing medications improved.

"Those two [tasks] primarily explain the difference," says Callahan. Handling money and medications takes a higher level of thought than chores such as using a phone or bathing, he notes.

The findings came from patients' answers to well-accepted surveys of physical function, quality of life, and tasks of daily living.

In terms of depression symptoms, about half of the group assigned to depression clinical specialists improved significantly. So did 20% of the participants who didn't have a depression clinical specialist.

Physical function gains stood out in those whose depression improved, whether they had been assigned to a depression clinical specialist or not, says Callahan.

Be Persistent

Sometimes, it takes a little time to find the right treatment. Keep trying until something works, says Callahan.

"If the first attempt at a treatment hasn't worked in the first six to 12 weeks, you need to try something else," he tells WebMD. "Stay with the idea that 'I might not get it right the first time, but as I pick alternatives, something is going to be able to get this person better.'"

Be Sensitive to Generational Differences

Depression is widespread in America in all age groups, affecting nearly 19 million people per year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Many people never get help. But some of the reasons might be a bit different for senior citizens, Callahan suggests. They're more likely to be facing other health problems, and their views about mental illness may have been formed long ago.

"Older people lived through an era when mental illness was viewed as irreversible," says Callahan. "Then, they lived through an era where it was treatable, but the treatments had serious side effects. Now, we're in an era with treatments that are effective and have less severe side effects."

Of course, antidepressant medicines aren't totally trouble-free today, but they've come a long way over the years.

The findings could translate into how patients are treated for depression, says Callahan. If it's not practical for health care providers to hire a depression clinical specialist, similar strategies could help, he says. "Make an explicit diagnosis, allow negotiation with the patient, and ... try something else [if the first attempt doesn't work]."

The study appears in the March issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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