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Aging with Depression: Can TMS Help?

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Aging with Depression: Can TMS Help?

The global population is aging, and people over the age of 60 are making up a larger percentage of the world’s inhabitants. It is estimated that by 2050, the proportion of older adults will almost double. (1) Unfortunately, older adults may be at an increased risk for depression due to co-occurring medical disorders or other risk factors, such as stressful life events. (2,3)

People over the age of 60 who have a diagnosis of major depressive are grouped into two categories by health professionals: those who were diagnosed for the first time after the age of 50 (also known as “late life depression”) and those who were diagnosed before the age of 50. (4) People who have a history of depression often experience between five to nine depressive episodes in the course of their lives. (5)

An older person with depression is at greater risk of relapse into depressive symptoms or not responding well to treatment for depression, and also has a lower chance of overall recovery from depression. Treatment-resistant depression is often diagnosed when a patient’s depression is not relieved after trying at least two forms of treatment. In people with depression, treatment-resistant depression is even more common after age of 65. (4) Depression is also a major predictor for suicide. (5) Although the US suicide rate among older adults has been declining, this group is still at risk. (6)

Older adults can benefit from transcranial magnetic stimulation

Because one third of depressed older adults have treatment-resistant depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been looked to provide relief for this population. (7)  TMS is an outpatient treatment that stimulates the brain in order to relieve symptoms of depression. This treatment option has been found to be especially effective in helping people with treatment-resistant depression. (8) You can learn more about the TMS therapy success rate here.

Additionally, recent studies have proven that the effectiveness of TMS persists for people over the age of 60—no matter the age of the patient, TMS has been found to be helpful in relieving depression. (7)

TMS treatment is performed using the NeuroStar® Advanced Therapy System. Watch this video about Colleen, a Neurostar patient who has benefitted from TMS, tells her story of a struggle with depression that lasted 60 years, until she found TMS:

If you feel like harming yourself:

Call your doctor.


Call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.


Call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889).


  1. World Health Organization. Mental health of older adults. December 12, 2017. Link. Accessed August 7, 2018.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression is Not a Normal Part of Growing Older. January 31, 2018. Link. Accessed August 7, 2018.
  3. Fiske A. Depression in Older Adults. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2009; 5: 363–389. Link. Accessed August 7, 2018.
  4. Sabesan P, Lankappa S, Khalifa N, Krishnan V, Gandhi R, Palaniyappan L. Transcranial magnetic stimulation for geriatric depression: Promises and pitfalls. World J Psychiatry. 2015 Jun 22; 5(2): 170–181. Link.
  5. Burcusa SL, Iacono WG. Risk for Recurrence in Depression. Clin Psychol Rev. 2007 Dec; 27(8): 959–985. Link. Accessed August 7, 2018.
  6. Conwell Y, Van Orden K, Caine ED. Suicide in Older Adults. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2011 Jun; 34(2): 451–468. Link. Accessed August 7, 2018.
  7. Rodriguez T. Tx-Resistant Depression: No Difference In TMS Results In Older vs Younger Adults. Psychiatry Advisor, August 1, 2017. Link. Accessed August 7, 2018.
  8. Carpenter LL, Janicak PG, Aaronson ST, et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for major depression: A multisite, naturalistic, observational study of acute treatment outcomes in clinical practice. Depress Anxiety. 2012 Jul;29(7):587-96. Link. Accessed August 7, 2018.
Dr. David Woo

Dr. Woo has been seeing patients in private practice since 2002, always with the goals of combining evidence-based medicine with psychodynamic psychotherapy and collaborating with other mental health professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for his patients. He has been certified to administer TMS at his practice since 2017. His greatest clinical interests include helping patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

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