Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine antidepressant use by nonpsychiatrists in the treatment of depressed elderly medical inpatients.
Method: Patients aged 60 or older who were admitted to medical services at Duke Hospital were evaluated by a geropsychiatrist who used a structured psychiatric interview to identify major or minor depressive disorder. Medical records of depressed patients were reviewed for use of antidepressants and benzodiazepines before admission, during hospitalization, and on discharge. After discharge, depressed patients were contacted four times by telephone at 12-week intervals to inquire about medication use (median follow-up time = 45 weeks).
Results: Of 153 depressed patients, 40.5% received antidepressants at some time during their hospital stay or follow-up period, 25.5% received only benzodiazepines, and 34.0% received neither. The most commonly prescribed antidepressant was amitriptyline (45.2% of treated patients), administered at an average maximum dose of 49 mg/day. Only 15 of 114 untreated depressed patients started antidepressant therapy during hospitalization (nine with amitriptyline). Of 91 depressed patients who did not receive antidepressants either before admission or during hospitalization, only 11% received any antidepressant therapy during the median 11-month follow-up; again, half were treated with amitriptyline at doses of 10-30 mg/day. Intensity of antidepressant therapy was predicted by severity of depressive symptoms, history of psychiatric problems, and higher income.
Conclusions: A relatively low proportion of depressed older medical inpatients receive treatment with antidepressants. Patients treated with antidepressants often receive potentially dangerous tertiary tricyclics at inadequate doses. Unless depression is identified and treated during medical hospitalization, it is unlikely to be treated adequately after discharge.