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Geriatric Psychopharmacology: Evolution of a Discipline

J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71(11):1416-1424
10.4088/JCP.10r06485gry

The development of geriatric psychopharmacology was built on advances in geriatric psychiatry nosology and clinical pharmacology and on increased investment in aging research by the National Institute of Mental Health and by academic institutions. Application of the US Food and Drug Administration’s geriatric labeling rule provided further impetus. Developments in the knowledge about 3 principal classes of medications (antidepressants, antipsychotics, and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease) illustrate the trajectory of geriatric psychopharmacology research. Nonetheless, the loss of information about age effects that has resulted from applying age exclusion criteria in studies limited to either younger adults or geriatric patients is regrettable. Antidepressant trials have moved from studying younger and medically well “geriatric” samples to focusing on “older old” persons and those with significant medical comorbidity including coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease, and dementia. Increased specificity is reflected in studies of relationships between specific neuropsychological deficits, specific brain abnormalities, and antidepressant responsiveness. Clinical trials in older adults have demonstrated that the efficacy of antipsychotic medications continues across the lifespan, but that sensitivity to specific side effects changes in older age, with poor tolerability frequently mitigating the benefits of treatment. Treatments for Alzheimer’s disease have fallen within the purview of geriatric psychopharmacology. The research focus is increasingly shifting from treatments to slow the course of cognitive decline to studies of early diagnosis and of interventions designed to prevent the development of deficits in vulnerable individuals. The importance of geriatric psychopharmacology will grow further as the average lifespan increases all over the world.

J Clin Psychiatry 2010;71(11):1416–1424

Submitted: August 10, 2010; accepted August 30, 2010 (doi:10.4088/JCP.10r06485gry).

Corresponding author: Dilip V. Jeste, MD, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr, No 0664, San Diego, CA 92093 (djeste@ucsd.edu).