As few as 3.5 per cent of cases were referred for therapy – with even fewer cases among the oldest patients, the study found.
Overall, those aged 85 and over were five times less likely to be referred for psychological therapies, as those in their late 50s, the review found.
And the older patients were one third more likely to be prescribed an antidepressant.
Researchers said “ageist stereotypes” among GPs, therapists and nurses meant they too often assumed older people would be “unwilling to change” or uninterested in talking therapies.
“Late-life depression was felt to lack suitable therapeutic solutions as it was considered to mainly arise from ‘justifiable’ causes, many of which related to ageing,” the authors said.
“GPs described depression as part of a spectrum including loneliness, lack of social network, reduction in function, and very much saw depression as ‘understandable’ and ‘justifiable,’” they found.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Whilst antidepressants can be effective drugs, we know that in general patients don’t want to be on long-term medication – and GPs don’t want that, either.
“We will always try to explore alternative therapies, such as CBT and talking therapies, but access to these therapies in the community is patchy across the country – and there is also a lack of variety, to allow us to match these services to the specific needs of our patients.