Current Opinion

Drugs & Aging

, Volume 31, Issue 9, pp 661-669

First online:

Major Depressive Disorder in Older Adults: Benefits and Hazards of Prolonged Treatment

  • Breno S. DinizAffiliated withDepartment of Mental Health and National Institute of Science and Technology, Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Federal University of Minas Gerais
  • , Charles F. ReynoldsIIIAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry, NIMH Center in Late Life Depression Prevention and Treatment, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Email author 

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Antidepressants have been shown to reduce the risk of depression recurrence in adults, justifying prolonged antidepressant maintenance therapy for most if not all patients. However, older depressed adults may be at increased risk for antidepressant adverse effects. This article discusses the benefits and hazards of continued treatment in elderly depressed patients, and indicates which patients should and should not receive maintenance phase antidepressants. Most clinical trials conducted so far suggest that prolonged antidepressant use in older adults is efficacious to reduce recurrence rates. The benefits of prolonged antidepressant use may not be restricted to preventing recurrence but also include preservation of overall well-being, social functioning, reduced mortality risk from medical disorders, and reduced risk of dementia. Although generally safe, the prolonged use of antidepressants has been associated with higher risk of osteopenia/osteoporosis (in particular the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and cardiovascular toxicity (tricyclic antidepressants). Fewer data are available for special populations, like those with multiple medical comorbidities or those with dementia; thus, the benefits of prolonged antidepressant use are not clear in these individuals.