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Applying Cognitive-Behavioral Psychotherapy To The Chronically Ill Elderly: Treatment Issues And Case Illustration

Bruce Rybarczyk, Dolores Gallagher-Thompson, John Rodman, Antonette Zeiss, Frank E. Gantz, Jerome Yesavage

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A large percentage of older adults must endure at least one chronic medical illness. Clinically significant depression and anxiety are common among these patients. Specific psychotherapy approaches as well as adaptations required to address the unique issues of this population have not been delineated in the literature. We outline a cognitive-behavioral therapy approach and discuss five treatment issues we have found to be important for this population. These issues include: (1) resolving practical barriers to participation; (2) accepting depression as a separate and reversible problem; (3) limiting excess disability; (4) counteracting the loss of important social roles and autonomy; and (5) challenging the perception of being a “burden.” A case study of a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patient with depression is presented and recommendations for future research are suggested.