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Online Mental Health Treatment Helps Older Adults

A study finds that patients gain from instant messaging with therapists

Online Mental Health Treatment

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A study found older adults with depression and anxiety showed clinical improvement from online therapy.

Older patients who receive mental health therapy on the internet show improvement at roughly the same rate as younger people, according to a new study published in the journal Aging & Society.

The study focused on 277 British patients 65 and older who received Internet-Enabled Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which patients and therapists interact in real time by exchanging instant messages. It differs from other techniques that provide self-help information through a mobile app or website, according to Ieso Digital Health, the company that provided the therapy.

The study found that over a period of 2½ years, 65 percent of older patients with depression and anxiety showed clinical improvement, and 49 percent showed reliable recovery from the disorders. The numbers are about the same as those of a larger sample of younger patients.

The study also found the older people who received online treatment were more likely to be self-referrals (71 percent) than younger patients (59 percent).

Sarah Bateup, Ieso’s chief clinical officer, said in an email that older patients “absolutely” respond to online therapy as well as younger ones, and that it could enable more older adults to get treatment.

Bateup said previous research has shown that older people get fewer referrals for therapy, in part because “physicians tend to perceive that anxiety and depression are normal features of older age." Additionally, older patients may be less likely to admit to their doctors that they’re anxious or depressed, she said.

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