Improving treatment of late life depression in primary care: a randomized clinical trial

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1994 Aug;42(8):839-46. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1994.tb06555.x.


Objective: Facilitate primary care physicians' compliance with recommended standards of care for late life depression by reducing barriers to recognition and treatment.

Design: Randomized controlled clinical trial of physician-targeted interventions.

Setting: Academic primary care group practice caring for an urban, medically indigent patient population.

Patients/participants: Patients aged 60 and older who exceeded the threshold on the Centers for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) and the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) and their primary care physicians.

Intervention: Physicians of intervention patients were provided with patient-specific treatment recommendations during 3 special visits scheduled specifically to address the patient's symptoms of depression. In general, physicians were encouraged to establish a diagnosis of depression and educate their patient about the diagnosis, discontinue medications that can cause or exacerbate depressive symptoms, initiate antidepressants when appropriate, and consider referral to psychiatry. Guidelines for prescribing antidepressants were provided. Control physicians received no intervention, and control patients received usual care.

Main outcome measures: Frequency of recording a depression diagnosis, stopping medications associated with depression, initiating antidepressant medication, and psychiatry referral; mean changes in HAM-D and Sickness Impact Profile (SIP) scores.

Results: One hundred three physicians and 175 patients were involved in the clinical trial. Physicians of intervention patients were more likely to diagnose depression and prescribe antidepressants (P < 0.01). There were no differences between the groups in the frequency of stopping medications associated with depression or referrals to psychiatry. Medications with the strongest cause and effect relationship to depression were infrequently used in this cohort of patients. Although both groups showed improvement in HAM-D and SIP scores, we were unable to demonstrate significant differences in HAM-D or SIP scores between the 2 groups.

Conclusions: Intensive screening and feedback of patient-specific treatment recommendations increased the recognition and treatment of late life depression by primary care physicians. However, we were unable to demonstrate significant improvement in depression or disability severity among intervention patients despite the informational support provided to their physicians. Efforts to improve the functional status of these patients may require more integrated interventions and more aggressive attempts to target psychosocial stressors traditionally outside the purview of primary care.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Education, Medical, Continuing
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care
  • Prognosis
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychiatry
  • Referral and Consultation


  • Antidepressive Agents