How effective is bibliotherapy for very old adults with subthreshold depression? A randomized controlled trial

Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 Mar;19(3):256-65. doi: 10.1097/JGP.0b013e3181ec8859.


Objectives: Depressive symptoms are common among elderly primary care patients, and because they encounter considerable barriers in seeking help and they often resist referral to specialized mental health facilities, it is important to look for easily accessible interventions within the primary care setting. Bibliotherapy, which has been found to be effective among younger populations, might be an attractive option. In this study, the authors investigated the effectiveness of bibliotherapy for depressive symptomatology in very old adults.

Design: Randomized controlled trial. After a 3-month period of "watchful waiting," the participants were randomly assigned to a bibliotherapy group or a usual care group.

Setting: Thirty-three general practices in the north-western region of the Netherlands.

Participants: One hundred seventy community-dwelling adults, aged 75 and older, with subthreshold depression.

Intervention: The bibliotherapy intervention consisted of an information leaflet and a self-help manual "Coping with Depression" adapted for the elderly.

Measurements: Outcome measures after 3 months were a) change in depressive symptoms according to the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) and b) the proportion of participants who scored a significant improvement on the CES-D.

Results: One hundred forty-six (85.9%) of the 170 participants completed the baseline and follow-up measurements. The authors did not find any clinically relevant and statistically significant differences between the intervention group and the control group in the severity of the depressive symptoms.

Conclusion: Bibliotherapy as a stand-alone intervention for the elderly (aged 75 years and older) did not reduce depressive symptoms more than usual care. This might indicate that bibliotherapy can only be effective for patients who are motivated and acknowledge their depression.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bibliotherapy / methods*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Dropouts / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care / methods*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Watchful Waiting