July 7, 2008

New York, NY – M. Katherine Shear, M.D., Marion E. Kenworthy Professor of Psychiatry at the Columbia University School of Social Work, has received a $2.6 million five-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  The grant will be used to conduct the first clinical study to determine the effects of two different models of treatment for complicated grief in older adults.

Complicated Grief (CG) is a reaction characterized by the inability to accept the death of a loved one. Unlike depression, complicated grief focuses on persistent intense grief, yearning and longing for the person who died, often accompanied by feelings of guilt or anger about the death.  There is preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased, including a tendency to enter states of reverie, often alternating with an opposite tendency to become upset by memories of the deceased and attempts to avoid situations that trigger these memories.  For older adults, complicated grief can be a serious and important problem.

“Many older people are vulnerable and may face problems in adjusting to grief not commonly found in younger adults,” says Dr. Shear. “They are susceptible to ill health and compromised cognitive functioning, prone to disruption of sleep and daily routines, and many are socially isolated. The elderly also have the highest rates of suicidality.  Given the demographic shift in the United States to a growing aging population, it is critical that we establish effective treatments for prevalent problems like CG in older people.”

The study, currently enrolling participants, will compare the efficacy of Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), a model which has been proven effective in the treatment of depression, with Complicated Grief Treatment (CGT), a novel treatment pioneered by Dr. Shear.  Participants in the study will take part in 16 weeks of treatment on an outpatient basis in the Late Life Depression Clinic at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.  

For more information, please contact Rachel Fox at 212-851-2107 or
sw-cgte@columbia.edu. To interview Dr. Shear, please contact Jeannie Hii at 212-851-2327 or jy2223@columbia.edu.

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