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Network Matters
News and Information for the
Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Network

March 2014

Treating Depression in Older Adults 

Many events common in later life — the loss of contemporaries, diminishing mobility and independence, being diagnosed with serious illnesses — can cause sadness or hopelessness. While depression is common among older adults, it is often overlooked and untreated, sometimes due to a mistaken belief that depression is a normal part of aging or because some symptoms of depression may appear to be age-related changes, such as reduced physical activity, sleeping problems, headaches, and memory difficulty.

In the U.S, the older adult population is growing rapidly and, as a result, the need for mental health services will likely increase. Older adults may feel more comfortable discussing feelings of sadness or other symptoms of depression with their primary care physician, with whom they have an existing history. As a result, primary care physicians play an important role in identifying and treating depression.

Delivery of care can be improved by strengthening the primary care physician’s:

  • Screening for depression with older adults
  • Assessment for and diagnosis of depression in older adults
  • Treatment selection
  • Delivery of evidence-based care
  • Evaluation of care

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Mental Health Services offers a kit to aid practitioners to aid practitioners in these areas. The “Treatment of Depression in Older Adults Evidence-Based Practices Kit” includes a practitioner’s guide, a leadership guide, information on key issues and ways to evaluate your program, and journal articles and other references. This kit provides information about evidence- based treatments and approaches that can be used to improve outcomes for older adults with depression, including: psychotherapy interventions, antidepressant medication, multidisciplinary geriatric mental health outreach services, and collaborative and integrated mental and physical health care.

How Optum/United Behavioral Health (Optum/UBH) can help your patients—For complex clinical situations, Optum/UBH is available to provide consultative assistance. Practitioners can call the Optum/UBH Physicians Consultation Service at (800) 292-2922. To refer a patient for behavioral health services and to facilitate the coordination of care, call Optum/UBH at (888) 777-4742.

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Eric H. Schultz,
President and Chief Executive Officer

Richard Weisblatt PhD,
Senior Vice President, Provider Network

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