Using Telehealth to Treat Depression in Elderly Patients

In 2020, behavioral health care services were among those that were considered non-emergent during COVID-19’s peak. COVID-19 had overridden the attention of frontline healthcare workers while demanding the need for social distancing at health care facilities, and limited hospital capacity for non-emergent admissions.

Certain treatment programs – like depression care management – were deemed more appropriate for remote interaction, causing an uptick in telehealth visits.

Depression can have severe consequences on the elderly when left untreated. It can cause impactful disruptions in a person’s life, from major changes in day-to-day functioning and productivity, to decreased quality of life and disability.

The elderly are at an even higher risk of depression and are more likely to experience more severe, debilitating forms. In addition to the stigma associated with mental illness, another factor that can exacerbate symptoms of depression in the elderly is a diminished sense of self-worth. Caregivers of older people are often the ones who experience this negative impact on a patient’s quality of life. All too often, caregivers are the ones who feel helpless and unable to adequately help their loved ones.

What Late-Life Depression Looks Like

Depression is a condition that impacts millions of people worldwide, even those aged 65 and older. Individuals who suffer from depression often experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities that once pleased them.

While depression can affect anyone, it is more commonly experienced by older people. Strong scientific evidence suggests that older, homebound, and disabled adults have more socioeconomic disadvantages and depressive symptoms than their peers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1-5% of older adults per community have major struggles with depression. It is also increasingly prevalent in older hospital patients (by 11.5%), and individuals who depend on home health care (by 13.5%).

Older adults succumb to depression later on in life for varying reasons. They are often isolated due to mobility issues and lack of support, which tend to be the root causes of their depression. The condition’s effect on the elderly’s growing generation calls for greater awareness of depressive symptoms in older adults, and effective treatments for this population.

Signs of late-life depression can be easily missed due to shifting symptoms throughout life. Fortunately, organizations like The National Alliance of Mental Illness lend insight to clinicians, caregivers, and family members on key signs of late-life depression.

Underlying causes of depression can range from several social, environmental, and biological factors with symptoms that vary by age. Common symptoms in older adults include confusion, social withdrawal, and loss of appetite, much like normal parts of the aging process.

Technology’s Role in Depression Care

Modern technology supports depression care by allowing for virtual consultations and appointments, whether for therapy or prescription of medicine. Virtual depression care opens the door to treatment for specific populations otherwise lacking access to care, such as individuals living in rural communities.

Access to depression treatment can pose an even bigger challenge for older age groups, due to limited mobility and the limited number of mental health workers who specialize in depression care for the elderly. Doctors are solving this problem with the adoption of telemedicine. Teletherapy, in particular, ensures that elderly patients have access to quality mental health care regardless of their mobility matters or geographic location.

Doctors and Their Use of Telemedicine for Treatment of Depression in the Elderly Population

Thanks to telehealth, patients all over the world can access quality mental health care no matter where they are. Connected health applications, and tools like video conferencing and direct messaging, equip clinicians to reach patients in underserved areas and fulfill their behavioral health needs remotely.

Depression Treatment Outcomes for Elderly Telehealth Patients

A recent study was performed on Home Health Care (HHC) agencies and their role in channeling homebound elderly patients to telehealth-based depression care programs. The study’s research data was based on a survey taken by 516 staff members from the National Association for Homecare & Hospice (NAHC), along with participants from other agencies.

Survey participants answered a series of questions relating to their intentions of telehealth use, performance expectancy, facilitating conditions, and more. A majority of the responses indicated an overall neutral or positive perception of telemedicine.

According to the results, 32% confirmed their knowledge of telehealth while 25% expressed that they had resources that allowed them to utilize telehealth. For the participants who had telehealth integrations already in place, and who had an overall positive perception of the platform, social influences and facilitating conditions were among the top motivators behind their intentions to use telehealth for depression care.

Additionally, The National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) spearheaded a clinical trial on elderly individuals with depressive symptoms, who turned to telehealth counseling for care. Researchers performed a comparison between various virtual mental health services available to elderly, homebound patients showing signs of depression.

The trial found that patients who received videoconferenced behavioral activation (tele-BA) and teleconference problem-solving therapy (tele-PST) provided by master’s-level clinicians had a significantly greater treatment response and higher remission rates than patients just partaking in telephone support calls led by research assistants.

Individuals who most benefit from teletherapy are located in medically underserved areas. The fortunate thing about telehealth is that it provides accessible and essential treatment to older, low-income adults with late-life depression. More mental health care providers are integrating telehealth with their workflows by the day. This signals a brighter future ahead with telehealth used for psychological and psychiatric care.

How to Help the Elderly with Depression and Expand Their Access to Mental Health Care

Telemedicine has proven to be useful and effective in various ways, with a big opportunity of mental health care services to elderly patients,

Trapollo is a leading provider of connected health solutions. Our virtual care platform offers a plethora of patient engagement tools built for a hassle-free telehealth experience. We equip providers with the healthcare support infrastructure needed to enable better patient care and outcomes, for the underserved population of older adults. Learn more about Trapollo’s solutions here.


Mr. Nester has focused in his career on business management, process improvement and services delivery. He has led project management, professional/engineering services and support services organizations providing solutions to the U.S. Federal Government and commercial Healthcare. He joined Trapollo in 2016 where he has served as the Chief Operating Officer leading the Trapollo services and operations teams as well as ensuring security and regulatory compliance.