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Studies Underway on Depression and Anxiety in Older Adults

Eric Lenze, MD, a Washington University psychiatrist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, is conducting studies designed to improve treatments for depression and anxiety in older adults.

One study is evaluating a pair of FDA-approved medications. Study volunteers take the antidepressant drug venlafaxine XR, commercially known as Effexor SR. Every study subject receives that drug for 12 weeks. If symptoms persist, study patients start taking an additional pill—either aripiprazole, sold as Abilify, or a placebo.

Lenze says sometimes doctors don’t recognize clinical depression as readily in older adults. There may be a tendency to attribute changes in mood to grief, disability or other problems associated with aging. At other times, depression may look more like a cognitive problem or a disorder related to other medications many older people take.

It is not unusual for depression to appear in older adults after they’ve had a disabling medical event, such as a heart attack, stroke or hip fracture. Lenze says becoming disabled is a major risk factor for depression in older adults.

“People in their 20s or 30s may have depression,” he explains, “but they won’t have the disability that goes with aging. Younger people also are less likely to have encountered some of the grief many older people face. And younger people are less likely to be diagnosed with dementia when depression is the real problem.”

One complicating factor in older patients is that so many are already taking several medications and may not want to add more. So in addition to studying medication, Lenze also is studying mindfulness-based stress reduction.


Eric Lenze, MD, speaks with study volunteer Jacqueline Arnold about how her depression has improved with treatment.


“We’re teaching older adults techniques that help them remain engaged in the present moment,” Lenze explains. “It’s very similar to meditation, and we want to learn whether this approach will relieve depression and help improve cognitive function.”

A few conditions exclude participation in the studies. Lenze says individuals with obvious dementia cannot participate, nor can those who drink large amounts of alcohol or have other serious psychiatric disorders. He says all others are eligible, provided they are over 60 and clinically depressed.

For more information on the medication or mindfulness study, contact Research Patient Coordinator Jenny Anger at 314-362-5154 or send her an email at angerj@psychiatry.wustl.edu

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