Problem-solving therapy better than supportive therapy for reducing disability in depressed old people with executive dysfunction


A randomised controlled trial published in the Archives of General Psychiatry has found that problem-solving therapy is a useful treatment alternative for elderly people with depression and executive dysfunction who do not respond well to conventional drug treatments.

The trial randomised 221 patients to either problem-solving therapy (PST) or supportive therapy (ST) and followed them up for 36 weeks.  The two treatments saw equal improvement in disability during the first 6 weeks, but PST was more effective after 9 and 12 weeks.

The difference between PST and ST was greater in patients with greater cognitive impairment and more previous episodes. Reduction in disability paralleled reduction in depressive symptoms. The therapeutic advantage of PST over ST in reducing depression was, in part, due to greater reduction in disability by PST. Although disability increased during the 24 weeks after the end of treatment, the advantage of PST over ST was retained.

The research team from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York concluded:

These results suggest that PST is more effective than ST in reducing disability in older patients with major depression and executive dysfunction, and its benefits were retained after the end of treatment. The clinical value of this finding is that PST may be a treatment alternative in an older patient population likely to be resistant to pharmacotherapy.

Alexopoulos GS, Raue PJ, Kiosses DN, Mackin RS, Kanellopoulos D, McCulloch C, Areán PA. Problem-solving therapy and supportive therapy in older adults with major depression and executive dysfunction: effect on disability. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011 Jan;68(1):33-41. [PubMed abstract]

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Andre Tomlin

Andre Tomlin

André started the Mental Elf website in May 2011. He has worked as an Information Scientist in Mental Health since the late nineties; initially at Oxford University's Centre for Evidence-Based Mental Health and since 2002 as the Managing Director of Minervation Ltd. He loves blogging, social media and elves! He also has established interests in evidence-based healthcare, usability testing and web design.

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