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Efficacy of Antidepressants for Late-Life Depression: A Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression of Placebo-Controlled Randomized Trials

Enrico Tedeschini, MD; Yeciel Levkovitz, MD; Nadia Iovieno, MD; Victoria E. Ameral, BA; J. Craig Nelson, MD; and George I. Papakostas, MD

Published: December 15, 2011

Article Abstract

Objective: Late-life depression is an important public health issue, given the growing proportion of the elderly relative to the general population in the developed world. The purpose of this study was to examine the efficacy of antidepressants for the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) in elderly patients.

Data Sources: PubMed/MEDLINE was searched for randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressants for treatment of both adult (nonelderly) MDD (patients aged < 65 years) and late-life MDD (patients aged ≥ 55 years). The search was limited to articles published between January 1, 1980, and March 3, 2010 (inclusive). The year 1980 was used as a cutoff in our search to decrease diagnostic variability, since the DSM-III was introduced in 1980. Our search cross-referenced the term placebo with each of the following antidepressants: amitriptyline, nortriptyline, imipramine, desipramine, clomipramine, trimipramine, protriptyline, dothiepin, doxepin, lofepramine, amoxapine, maprotiline, amineptine, nomifensine, bupropion, phenelzine, tranylcypromine, isocarboxazid, moclobemide, brofaromine, fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine, citalopram, escitalopram, fluvoxamine, zimelidine, tianeptine, trazodone, nefazodone, agomelatine, venlafaxine, desvenlafaxine, duloxetine, milnacipran, reboxetine, mirtazapine, and mianserin. We also reviewed the reference lists of all studies identified through the PubMed/MEDLINE search.

Study Selection: Articles were selected that reported on randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of antidepressants used as monotherapy for treatment of MDD and that met numerous a priori criteria pertaining to MDD diagnosis criteria, study duration, study design, drug formulation, original data, age thresholds, primary and secondary outcome measures, and exclusions of other disorders. Final inclusion of articles was determined by consensus between the authors. Seventy-four articles were found eligible for inclusion in our analysis (15 late-life MDD trials and 59 adult MDD trials).

Results: Antidepressants were found to be efficacious for late-life MDD (age 55 and older; P < .0001), although there was evidence for heterogeneity across studies (Q22 = 67.302, P < .001). However, antidepressants were not found to be efficacious in the subset of studies using age thresholds of 65 years or older (older late-life MDD) (P = .265). Finally, when we controlled for study design characteristics, antidepressant but not placebo response rates were lower among late-life MDD patients than among adult MDD patients.

Conclusions: The present meta-analysis suggests that antidepressants are efficacious in late-life MDD, but significant study heterogeneity suggests that other factors may contribute to these findings. A secondary analysis raises the possibility that efficacy of these agents may be reduced in trials involving patients aged 65 years or older. Why antidepressants may be less efficacious in elderly versus younger subjects remains unclear.

J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(12):1660-1668

Submitted: August 27, 2010; accepted February 18, 2011(doi:10.4088/JCP.10r06531).

Corresponding author: Enrico Tedeschini, MD, Department of Psychiatry, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, 71 Del Pozzo Rd, 41100 Modena, Italy (

Volume: 72

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