New research has found that both older and younger veterans suffering from depression who underwent cognitive behavioral therapy showed reductions in depressive symptoms. This is according to a study published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

Researchers led by Bradley Karlin, of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, say their study is one of the first to use a diverse national sample of veterans, compare changes in depression and quality of life, and determine the effects of therapeutic interventions.

According to the researchers, previous studies have shown that very few older adults use mental health services, compared with younger adults.

“Untreated depression in older adults is associated with poorer quality of life, significantly increased mortality, increased suicide rates, exacerbation of and/or delay in recovery from medical illness, and considerable economic, social, family, and overall societal costs,” they note.

The research team set out to determine whether cognitive behavioral therapy for depression (CBT-D) would help improve depressive symptoms in 864 veterans who were seeking treatment within the Veterans Health Administration.

Of these veterans, 764 were aged between 18 and 64, while 100 were aged 65 and over. All veterans were required to have between 12 and 15 psychotherapy sessions.

The CBT-D treatment was carried out by 471 therapists who had training designed around a protocol that had been especially adapted for veterans and military service members.

The severity of each patient’s depression was measured using a scoring system called Beck Depression Inventory II.

A Working Alliance Inventory Short Revised (WAI-SR) system was used to measure the patients’ agreement on the goals of therapy, agreement on the agenda of therapy and the development of a relational bond between the patient and therapist.

Of all veterans, 545 (63%) completed ten or more CBT-D sessions, and 45 (5%) finished their sessions early, due to relief of depressive symptoms.

Both older and younger veterans who completed all sessions demonstrated an average overall reduction of almost 40% in Beck Depression Inventory II scores, and high scores were observed on the WAI-SR.

The researchers note that since the rate of dropout from CBT-D was relatively low and almost identical between older and younger patients, this suggests that the therapy was met with similar levels of acceptability in both age groups.

They add that results provide evidence of CBT-D being effective in reducing depressive symptoms in both younger and older patients:

Overall, the current results suggest that CBT is an effective – and based on the high completion rates and high scores on the WAI-SR – well-accepted treatment for older veterans with depression.

The wide availability of this effective and well-accepted therapy for older patients might help reduce the large gap between older individuals who would benefit from, but have not received, treatment for depression.”

The study authors conclude that they hope these findings will not only encourage older adults to seek treatment for depression, but also encourage mental health practitioners to provide CBT-D to older patients, and prompt primary care practitioners to refer older patients for CBT.

Last year, Medical News Today revealed that a report directed at the US Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs stated that veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) need better access to care and monitoring of treatments.