Harnessing the Power of Psychological Therapies to Combat Depression in Older Adults Living in Long-Term Care

Depression among older adults in long-term care centers is a pervasive issue, challenging the wellbeing and quality of life of an aging population. Traditional approaches, predominantly pharmacological, have been the linchpin in managing these symptoms. However, an emerging body of research advocates a paradigm shift towards psychological therapies, which are proving to be not only effective but also possibly more humane and attuned to the psychological needs of older adults.

A systematic review conducted by the Cochrane Library sheds considerable light on the potential of psychological therapies to mitigate depression symptoms better than traditional non-therapy approaches in long-term care settings. The findings suggest that interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), behavioral therapy, and reminiscence therapy can significantly improve outcomes immediately after therapy and sustain these improvements for up to six months.

The compelling evidence from Cochrane’s extensive review aligns with findings from other notable studies. For instance, a 2016 systematic review published in PLoS One emphasizes that problem-solving therapy (PST) is a promising treatment for older people with depressive symptoms, which complements the broader narrative that psychological therapies could serve as viable alternatives to medication. This is particularly pertinent given the common side effects and often diminished efficacy of antidepressants in older adults as highlighted by a 2019 study in the British Journal of General Practice.

Moreover, research highlighted in Maturitas (2014) and International Psychogeriatrics (2023) corroborates the notion that psychological interventions are not only safe but effective in treating depression among the older adult population in long-term care. These interventions offer a dual benefit—a reduction in depression symptoms and an enhancement in the overall quality of life and psychological well-being of older adults.

Dr. Yvonne Wells from the Cambridge study underscores the significance of these findings, “Our systematic review demonstrated the positive impacts of psychological therapies on symptoms of depression in older people living in long-term care, both immediately after therapy and in the long term.”

However, despite the promising outcomes, the research consistently points out the scarcity of high-quality clinical trials and the need for more robust methodologies to solidify these findings. The Cochrane review itself notes the limited confidence in the evidence, due to the small sample sizes and inconsistent methods employed across studies. This calls for an urgent need to invest in comprehensive, well-designed clinical trials to further validate and refine these psychological interventions.

As we look to the future, it becomes increasingly clear that an integrated approach, involving a mix of psychological therapies tailored to the individual needs of older adults, could revolutionize the way depression is treated in long-term care settings. This could not only alleviate the burden of depression on our aging population but also enhance their quality of life.

In summary, the shift towards psychological therapies represents a critical evolution in the care of older adults with depression. It is an approach that aligns with a broader, more holistic view of health care—one that considers the mental, emotional, and social needs of individuals as integral to their overall health and wellbeing. As this field continues to evolve, it is imperative that all stakeholders from healthcare providers to policymakers take heed of the evidence and push forward with the necessary research and resources to implement these changes effectively.


  1. Cochrane Library. “Are psychological therapies effective in reducing depression in older adults living in long-term care?” Accessed from: Cochrane Library Review
  2. Jonsson, U., Bertilsson, G., Allard, P., Gyllensvärd, H., Söderlund, A., Tham, A., Andersson, G. (2016). “Psychological treatment of depression in people aged 65 years and over: a systematic review of efficacy, safety, and cost-effectiveness.” PLoS One. Accessed from: PLoS One Article
  3. Cuijpers, P., Karyotaki, E., Pot, A.M., Park, M., Reynolds, C.F. (2014). “Managing depression in older age: psychological interventions.” Maturitas. Accessed from: Maturitas
  4. Wells, Y., Davison, T., Bhar, S., Doyle, C., You, E., Barson, F. (2023). “Psychological therapies for depression in older adults residing in long-term care settings: Are they effective?” International Psychogeriatrics. Accessed from: International Psychogeriatrics
  5. Frost, R., Beattie, A., Bhanu, C., Walters, K. (2019). “Management of depression and referral of older people to psychological therapies: a systematic review of qualitative studies.” British Journal of General Practice. Accessed from: British Journal of General Practice

Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter

Get timely and relevant industry news, research and articles delivered right to your inbox each month—exclusively for those caring for & engaging with older adults. 

Never miss an upcoming publication—drop your email below and subscribe to our Newsroom.

You might like these articles, too!

Tools & Resources
Amanda Krisher, LCSW-C

Navigating Modern Life: Balancing Technology with Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month In a world where rapid change is the only constant, navigating the complexities of modern life can be overwhelming. Today, a stark generational divide exists: approximately half of Americans recall a time before the ubiquitous presence of the internet, while for the younger generation,

Read More »
Research, Studies & Evaluations
Amanda Krisher, LCSW-C

Enhancing Respect and Appreciation: Strategic Approaches to Boosting Retention of Direct Care Workers in Baltimore

Across the country, the struggle to retain direct care workers in long-term services and supports (LTSS) is reaching a crisis point. This article combines insights from a comprehensive Baltimore-focused report with recent research to explore the complexities behind this workforce crisis. The Baltimore Report: A Spotlight on Two Key Systemic

Read More »

Leave a Comment

Get Articles Like this Delivered to Your Inbox Every Month

Join over 2,000 readers and sign up to never miss an upcoming publication of Engaging with Aging publication.

We respect your privacy and will never rent or sell your information to third-parties.