Pitt’s Center for Late Life Depression Receives Nearly $9 million for New Research

Issue Date: 
November 7, 2011

The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Late Life Depression Prevention and Treatment Research has received nearly $9 million from the National Institute of Mental Health to further its work in depression prevention and treatment in later life. Under the direction of Charles F. Reynolds, the federally funded Center of Excellence will conduct three new research studies in depression prevention among vulnerable older adults, in addition to continuing existing research.

“Depression erodes quality of life, productivity in the workplace, and fulfillment of social and familial roles,” said Reynolds, professor of psychiatry and of behavioral and community health science in Pitt’s School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health. “In knowledge-and service-driven economies, the population’s mental capital becomes both more valuable and vulnerable to depression’s impact across the life cycle, including late life. Depression prevention research and practice have progressed from a pioneering stage to one in which investments on a larger scale are necessary and appropriate to diminish depression’s global illness burden. This center will push the field forward to the benefit of older adults and their caregivers.”

The first of three new depression- prevention studies will look at the use of learning-based interventions to help seniors who receive supportive services and face a variety of psychosocial vulnerabilities that put them at risk for depression. One group at high risk is older adults receiving aging services through Medicaid waiver programs. This three-year study will test the effectiveness of enhancing problem-solving skills and of teaching ways to sleep better as measures to prevent depression in these seniors.

The second study will adapt problem-solving strategies for use by people living with mild cognitive impairment and for their caregivers as an intervention for preventing major depression. In addition, an exercise intervention will be used in both groups to enhance protection from depression.

The third study focuses on osteoarthritis pain and associated disability as risk factors for major depression. The first stage will compare the relative effectiveness of treating pain with either cognitive behavioral therapy or physical therapy. The second stage will adapt interventions based on a participant’s response to the first stage.

Each of the studies will collect information about biomarkers, such as measures of inflammation, which may enhance the identification of older adults at high risk for depression and provide information about whether and how interventions may be protective against the onset of depression. Data from the three clinical trials will be pooled together to further develop models of personalized intervention.

The Center for Late Life Depression Prevention is located at both the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC.