Thomas Tsirakis, BA
The use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) as a first-line of treatment for depression in the elderly has become the standard of choice in clinical practice. The widespread preference of initiating treatment with an SSRI versus the more traditional tricyclic antidepressants (TCA) has been largely due to the belief that SSRIs have a safer profile, are better tolerated, and have a lower drop-out rate than TCAs. An accumulating number of studies published in the last few years, however, have begun to question this rationale, and have demonstrated that SSRIs are neither as advantageous, nor as safe as previously believed.
There are four SSRIs currently available [fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), and fluvoxamine (Luvox)], each possessing both similar and unique side-effect profiles. Though SSRIs have been the main-stay of first-line treatment in recent years, it is important to be aware that they are not without risk. The belief that SSRIs exhibit fewer side-effects than TCAs is misleading in that TCAs have been studied far more extensively than SSRIs, and nearly every study comparing an SSRI with a TCA has used one of the most poorly tolerated TCAs in the comparison, thus making the SSRIs look remarkably tolerable.