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A Double-Blind Comparison of Sertraline and Fluoxetine in Depressed Elderly Outpatients

J Clin Psychiatry 2000;61:559-568

Background: There has been a paucity of well-designed studies comparing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications in the treatment of depression in the elderly. This multicenter study was designed to examine the efficacy and safety of sertraline and fluoxetine in depressed elderly outpatients. A secondary objective was to examine the effects of SSRI treatment on quality of life and cognitive function.

Method: Two hundred thirty-six outpatients 60 years of age and older who met DSM-III-R criteria for major depressive disorder received 1 week of single-blind placebo before being randomly assigned to 12 weeks of double-blind, parallel-group treatment with flexible daily doses of either sertraline (range, 50-100 mg) or fluoxetine (range, 20-40 mg). Primary efficacy measures consisted of the 24-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression and Clinical Global Impressions scale ratings. Secondary outcome assessments included clinician- and patient-rated measures of depression symptoms and factors, cognitive functioning, and quality of life, as well as plasma drug concentrations, which were correlated with clinical response.

Results: Both drugs produced a similarly positive response on the primary efficacy measures, with 12-week responder rates of 73% for sertraline and 71% for fluoxetine. Sertraline-treated patients showed statistically greater cognitive improvement on several measures. Both drugs were safe and well tolerated.

Conclusion: Data indicate that both drugs are effective antidepressants for the treatment of depressed elderly outpatients. Differences in cognitive performance effects deserve further investigation.