Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Effective in Older Veterans


Last week we honored service men and women on Veteran’s Day, acknowledging their contributions to maintaining our freedoms. While important to focus on veterans on a national holiday, many struggle daily dealing with the aftereffects of serving during wartime. High numbers of vets are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression. Fortunately, overall awareness, education and a better understanding of these conditions have helped educate the general public and improve treatment methods by providers. But as with many seniors, diagnosing and treating these conditions, especially depression in older adult veterans, remains challenging.

In a positive new development, a recent study found improvements in levels of depressive symptoms in both younger and older veterans. Conducted at the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs by Bradley Karlin, Ph.D., the research focused on the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for depression (CBT-D) and evaluated its effectiveness. CBT shows a patient how his negative thought patterns might contribute to depression. Of the study’s 864 participants, 100 were 65 or older. The treatment in this study was designed specifically for veterans and service people and composed of 12 to 16 individual therapy sessions.

Historically, older adults don’t often seek treatment for depression and often drop out of counseling if they do engage, so the pool of older veterans and service members getting help for depression is a small sample. But when depressed, seniors are at higher risk for suicide, very low quality of life, poor physical health and self-care. This is why an effective treatment regimen is so critical to the older adult population.

Results were encouraging with the study reporting an almost 70 percent treatment program completion rate. Using a popular depression screening tool, the Beck Depression Inventory, which measures levels of depression, there was almost 40 percent symptom relief for participants. Positive results such as these from the study will help further efforts to reach older veterans with depression who might otherwise go untreated.

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