Alternative Treatments for Depression in Older Adults

Key Points

  • Alternative treatments can be used on their own or with other treatments, like therapy or medication, to help with depression among older adults.
  • Alternative treatments may not work for more severe cases of depression. Treatments will affect each person differently. The research on alternative treatments is limited and, in most cases, not specific to older adults.
  • If you decide to try any of the treatments below, be sure to talk to your family doctor or mental health professional first.

Bright Light Therapy

  • Bright Light Therapy, also known as phototherapy, is exposure to bright light that is meant to mimic natural light.
  • Bright Light therapy was originally used to treat symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is when people experience periods of depression during the fall and winter when there is less natural light.
  • Bright Light Therapy is now used to help treat non-seasonal types of depression too.
  • Bright Light Therapy has been found to relieve symptoms of depression and improve mood and sleep.
  • The best length of time to receive bright light therapy is not fully known, but it should be used for at least one week.
  • Please talk with your family doctor when considering Bright Light Therapy for depression.
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Vitamin B

  • Both Vitamin B12 (cyanoboalamin) and Vitamin B9 (folic acid) are natural vitamins found in certain foods such as meat, eggs, and dairy products. 
  • Vitamin B12 and B9 are good for your health. A lack of Vitamins B12 and B9 is linked to depression, especially in older adults.
  • It is unknown if taking B Vitamins can help older adults with depression who do not have a B vitamin deficiency.
  • Short term use of Vitamin B does not seem to help reduce depressive symptoms. Longer term use after several weeks may help to prevent relapse of symptoms and possibly the onset of symptoms for people at risk.
  • Please talk with your family doctor when considering Vitamin B supplement for depression.
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St. John’s Wort

  • St. John’s Wort is a plant-based substance used by some people in the treatment of depression.
  • St. John’s Wort and St. John’s Wort extract (Neurostan) comes in tablets or capsules and can be purchased over-the-counter at most major pharmacies.
  • More research about the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort is needed. Although the treatment is not new, research is still unclear about the long-term effects of using St. John’s Wort, including for older adults.
  • Some research has shown St. John’s Wort is effective for mild-moderate cases of depression, but there are very few studies about the effects of St. John’s Wort on severe cases of depression. This means that St. John’s Wort may not be as effective in severe cases.
  • If you are taking other medications you should always consult your doctor about potential harmful drug interactions.
  • Please talk with your family doctor when considering St. John’s Wort for depression.
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Omega 3 Fatty Acids

  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids are a natural health supplement that come in pill form but can also be found in food sources such as fish, seeds and nuts.
  • People with Major Depressive Disorder may have lower levels of Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
  • Omega 3 can reduce symptoms of depression when taken with antidepressants.
  • The benefit of taking Omega 3 without antidepressants is unknown at this time.
  • Please talk with your family doctor when considering Omega 3 for depression.
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S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe)

  • SAMe is a naturally occurring molecule in the human body and is important in brain function.
  • Many people diagnosed with depression have low levels of SAMe in their bodies.
  • By taking SAMe supplements, people can increase levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in the brain, which is linked with better moods and happiness.
  • Very little is known about SAMe and its effects on depression among older adults and much more research is needed.
  • Please talk with your family doctor when considering SAMe supplement for depression.
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Animal Therapy

  • Animal Therapy gives people the chance to interact with animals in order to improve their quality of life.
  • In Animal Therapy, a professionally trained animal becomes an important part of a person’s treatment plan. Often these animals even live with them.
  • Some people also participate in Animal Assisted Activities. These activities do not have to be delivered or supervised by professionals and can take place in hospitals, personal care homes, community centres, or other places.
  • Though much more research is needed, some benefits of Animal Therapy may include:
    • Physical: such as increased activity and movement, and lower blood pressure.
    • Psychological: such as a sense of relief or comfort, companionship, and reduced feelings of depression, stress and anxiety.
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Disclaimer: Information in this pamphlet is offered ‘as is’ and is meant only to provide general information that supplements, but does not replace the information from your health provider. Always contact a qualified health professional for further information in your specific situation or circumstance.

For More Information See:


  • Al-Karawi, D., & Jubair, L. (2016). Bright light therapy for nonseasonal depression: Meta-analysis of clinical trials. Journal of Affective Disorders, 198, 64-71. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2016.03.016
  • Souter, M. A., & Miller, M. D. (2007). Do animal-assisted activities effectively treat depression? A meta-analysis. Anthrozoös, 20(2), 167-180. doi:10.2752/175303707X207954
  • Varteresian, T., & Lavretsky, H. (2014). Natural products and supplements for geriatric depression and cognitive disorders: An evaluation of the research. Current Psychiatry Reports, 16(8), 456. doi: 10.1007/s11920-014-0456-x
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Download: Fact Sheet: Alternative Treatments for Depression in Older Adults

Last Updated: May 2020