A systematic review of ketamine for the treatment of depression among older adults



Depression is the second most prevalent mental health disorder among older adults
after anxiety disorders. It effects 7% of the general older population globally 5.6%
of US older adults. Suicide rates also increase between ages of 60-90 in both men
and women around the world. A large body of literature shows increased association
of late life depression with increased morbidity and mortality in this age group.
Evidence for depression as a risk factor for physical and cognitive decline that results
in lower quality of life and function among older adults underlines the importance
of early recognition and prompt treatment of this serious condition.

The most common modalities currently used for treatment of late life depression include
pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Pharmacotherapy
mostly consists of antidepressants targeting the monoaminergic system.

Ketamine has recently emerged as a novel, rapid acting option for treatment resistant
depression in adults. Ketamine is a N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist,
which has been used primarily as an anesthetic since the 1960s. In 1990s preclinical
studies demonstrated the role of NMDA receptor antagonists in treatment of depression,
which was later confirmed in a pilot clinical study. Berman et al administered subanaesthetic
doses of Ketamine (0.5mg/kg) vs. placebo to 7 study participants which resulted in
robust decreases in Hamilton Depression Rating Scale scores within 4 hours of the
infusion in all participants. The effect was sustained for 3 days followed by diminution
of the scores and relapse of symptoms. This rapid onset anti-depressant effect of
ketamine compared to conventional antidepressants attracted considerable interest
and these findings have since been reliably replicated in multiple different studies,
using different protocols and routes of administration of ketamine.

This systematic review evaluates randomized controlled trials completed in the older
adult population with depression to appraise the efficacy and tolerability of ketamine
specifically in this population.


The authors followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses

On November 09, 2019 the authors conducted a comprehensive search of multiple databases:
PubMed (through November 09, 2019), MEDLINE (Ovid ALL 1946 to November 08, 2019),
Embase (Ovid 1974 to 2019 November 08), PsycINFO (Ovid 1806 to October Week 4 2019),
Web of Science Core Collection (through November 09, 2019), and Cochrane Central Register
of Controlled Trials (Issue 11 of 12, November 2019). The search strategy was filtered
for human studies in PubMed, MEDLINE, and Embase using controlled vocabulary terms
in the search strategy. On December 13, 2019 an updated search was completed. The
search repeated the controlled vocabulary terms and free text terms.


A total of 1699 citations were deduplicated to 1005 and uploaded to Covidence for
screening by two separate screeners. Two studies were found to meet the inclusion
criteria for this review. The first study showed a significant reduction in depression
symptoms with use of repeated subcutaneous ketamine administration among older adults
with depression. The second study failed to achieve significance on its primary outcome
measure but did show a decrease in MADRS scores with intranasal ketamine. This study
also showed a higher response and remission rates in esketamine group when compared
to the placebo group. Both the studies showed relapse in symptoms after a week of
last treatment, but the benefits were better sustained with repeated treatments. The
adverse effects from ketamine generally lasted only lasted a few hours and abated
spontaneously without any additional intervention. No cognitive adverse effects were
noted in either trial from the use of ketamine.


The current evidence for use of ketamine among older adults with depression indicates
some benefits with one positive and one negative trial. Although one of the trails
did not achieve significance on primary outcome measure, it still showed benefit of
ketamine in reducing depressive symptoms. Both studies show longer sustenance of antidepressant
effects at higher doses and with repeated treatments. One of the studies showed better
ketamine efficacy in younger old subjects (65 to 74 years) when compared to older
old (³75 years) subjects. Ketamine was well tolerated in both studies with adverse-effects
being mild and transient. Additionally, there were no negative cognitive effects of
ketamine noted among any of the study participants. Based on the limited current evidence,
it is our opinion that ketamine shows some benefit in relieving depressive symptoms
in older adults. However, there is dearth of randomized controlled trials and we need
more well designed studies to arrive at a reliable conclusion regarding ketamine’s
benefit in treating depression among older adults.



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