As social workers we often hear clients voice frustration that medication provides little or no relief in their depressive symptoms. A few nights ago I was parked in front of the TV channel surfing when I came across an interview with Dr Andrew Leuchter, principal researcher in a study called EEG Biomarkers for Predicting Response to Antidepressant Therapy.
According to Dr Leuchter, “We can tell by the changes that occur within the first few days of drug treatment whether the brain is responding in such a way that the patient will eventually get better.” (Source: Stephanie Stahl, Finding The Right Antidepressant, visited on the Internet on 6/19/07 at http://cbs3.com/health/local_story_169175757.html)
How can he tell? Patients are evaluated for changes in their brain’s electrical activity with a device which employs electroencephalogram (EEG) technology using fewer electrodes than the typical EEG machine you may have seen. The device is reportedly demonstrating a 70-80% success rate in predicting whether medication will be effective on a long-term basis after a single week of treatment. (Source: Emily Singer, 5/29/07,Transforming the Psychiatrist’s Office: New technologies for treating depression could make the couch obsolete, visited on the Internet on 6/19/07 at http://www.technologyreview.com/Biotech/18791/)
Wouldn’t it be great if the psychiatrists we work with were able to predict with reasonable accuracy if a medication will work? This research definitely sounds like a step in the right direction. But if you read the exclusion criteria, you’ll see that the results may not be appropriate to generalize to depressed individuals with substance abuse issues. Or to women in general due to the birth control stipulation, which I assume means oral contraceptives. And then there are those poor souls who never seem to respond to medication despite years of compliance with their prescribed medication regimen.
I’ll be curious to see how this shakes out and whether it will result in new methods of monitoring our clients’ symptoms in addition to their responses to antidepressant medications.