Depression in the Elderly
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
In addition to antidepressants, some people use the herb St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) to treat depression. A bushy, wild-growing plant with yellow flowers, the herb has been used for centuries in many folk and herbal remedies. Today in Europe, it is widely used to treat mild to moderate depression. In the United States, it is one of the top-selling botanical products.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently conducted a clinical trial to find out if the herb is effective at treating adults who suffer from major depression. (A clinical trial is a research study to find out whether a drug, treatment, or therapy is safe and effective.) The trial found that St. John's wort is no more effective than a placebo, or sugar pill, at treating major depression. Another study is looking at the effectiveness of St. John's wort for treating mild or minor depression.
Other research has shown that St. John's wort can interact unfavorably with other drugs. On February 10, 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Public Health Advisory stating that the herb appears to interfere with certain drugs used to treat heart disease, depression, seizures, certain cancers, and organ transplant rejection. Because of these potential interactions, older adults should always consult with their doctors before taking any herbal supplement.
Depression in the Elderly and SuicideIt is widely believed that suicide more often affects young people. However, older adults are affected by suicide, too. Adults age 65 and older accounted for about 17 percent of the roughly 30,000 suicide deaths in the United States in 2003. In fact, non-Hispanic white men age 85 and older have the highest suicide rate in the United States.
Several studies have also found that many older adults who die by suicide -- up to 75 percent -- have visited a primary care physician within a month of their suicide. These findings point to the urgency of improving detection and treatment of depression as a means of reducing suicide risk among the elderly.