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Keywords:

  • depression;
  • caregiver;
  • family;
  • burden;
  • treatment

OBJECTIVES: To describe the burden experienced by family caregivers of older adults with depression and to examine the positive effects on caregivers of treating late-life depression.

DESIGN: Two-phase treatment study for major depressive disorder (MDD) that included 6 weeks of open treatment with antidepressant medication for all older patients followed by 16 weeks of randomized treatment for patients who were partial responders, comparing a combination of medication and interpersonal psychotherapy with medication alone.

SETTING: Primary care and university late-life mental health research clinic.

PARTICIPANTS: Adults aged 60 and older participating in a randomized trial for treatment of MDD who enrolled in a family caregiver study and their caregiver (N=244 dyads).

MEASUREMENTS: Improvement in patient symptoms during open treatment (lower scores on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD)) and remission of depression during randomized treatment (3 consecutive weekly HRSD scores of ≤7) were examined as predictors of lower general caregiver burden and burden specific to patient depression.

RESULTS: Caregivers reported a moderate to high level of general caregiver burden on average. Change in patient depression during open treatment was associated with significantly decreased depression-specific burden (β=−0.22, P=.001) and a trend toward lower general burden (β=−0.08, P=.08). Caregivers of patients who remitted showed significantly decreased depression-specific burden (F (1,76)=4.27, P=.04).

CONCLUSION: Treatment of late-life depression has benefits that extend to the family members on whom patients depend. Caregiver education and support may strengthen these effects.