Age should not be a barrier to choice when it comes to treating depression, says BACP’s Older People lead Jeremy Bacon.

New research shows that older patients are less likely to be offered psychological therapies, and more likely to be prescribed medication.

And Jeremy says this difference in treatments is “inadvertently limiting choice and opportunities for older people to recover”.

He was commenting on the publication of a study by the University College London and the University of Bristol. Published in the British Journal of General Practice, the researchers examined 27 studies of psychological treatment of older people.

"Depression and low mood should not be considered inevitabilities of ageing and more can be done to help people to identify symptoms and seek help," Jeremy said.

“This study has found that healthcare professionals are treating older patients with depression differently to their younger patients, inadvertently limiting choice and opportunities for them to recover.

“Assumptions about older people’s preferences, focus on physical rather than mental health, and variation in availability of talking therapies are identified as themes in the management of later life depression that disempower older people.

“The data from IAPT in England shows that although under-represented in uptake of talking therapies, older people have better completion and recovery outcomes.

“BACP welcomes this study and is working collaboratively to further increase understanding of the perceptions and efficacy of counselling for older people and calling for greater provision and access to therapy for those who need it, irrespective of age.”

The research found that two in five people aged over 75 have some signs of depression. Many doctors believe depression in later life is mainly linked to social isolation and functional decline but the treatments to address this are limited, the study found.

The study also found that people aged 85 and over were five times less likely to be referred for therapy than those in their late 50s. And older patients were a third more likely to be prescribed antidepressant.

The research team called for “mental ill-health needs to be a more prominent concern in the care of older adults, with greater provision of psychological services tailored to later life”. 

The researchers concluded: “This review suggests that primary care services for older people do not currently prioritise older adults’ mental health to the same extent as their physical health, which is compounded by a lack of referral options suitable to older people’s needs.

“Investment in psychological therapies that are suitable for older adults, along with other social referral options, are needed to facilitate the identification and treatment of late-life depression,” they added.

Find out more about BACP's older people strategy.