A Double-Blind Randomized Comparison of Nortriptyline and Paroxetine in the Treatment of Late-Life Depression: 6-Week Outcome

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Background: Some studies have suggested that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors may be less efficacious than tricyclic antidepressants in the treatment of severe depression in older patients. The objective of this study was to compare the 6-week outcome of treatment with nortriptyline and paroxetine in older patients with a major depressive episode. Method: A double-blind randomized comparison of nortriptyline and paroxetine was conducted in 80 elderly (mean ± SD age = 75.0 ± 7.4 years) psychiatric inpatients and outpatients who presented with a major depressive episode. Dropout and response rates were compared in patients who began or completed treatment. Rates of response of inpatients and patients with melancholic depression were also compared. Results: Over 6 weeks, there were no significant differences in dropout rates due to side effects (nortriptyline, 14% vs. paroxetine, 19%) or for any reason (27% vs. 33%). Similarly, there were no significant differences between the rates of favorable response to nortriptyline or paroxetine (intent-to-treat analysis, 57% vs. 44%; completer analysis, 78% vs. 66%). Analyses restricted to inpatients or to patients with melancholic depression yielded similar results. Conclusion: Nortriptyline and paroxetine appear to have similar efficacy and tolerability in the acute (6-week) treatment of older depressed patients, including hospitalized patients and those with melancholic features.

J Clin Psychiatry 1999;60(suppl 20):16-20