Anti-depressant may help relieve agitation in Alzheimer’s patients: study

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (PNA/Xinhua) — Anti-depressant drug citalopram could help significantly relieve agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease but at the cost of slightly decreasing cognitive function and increasing heart attack risk, show results of a clinical trial released Tuesday.

However, the drug sold under brand names Celexa and Cipramil and which is also available as a generic medication, might be safer than anti-psychotic drugs used at present to treat the condition, noted the study led by Johns Hopkins medicine researchers including seven other academic medical centers in the US and Canada.

Anti-psychotics are often used as first-line medication for Alzheimer’s-related agitation but the researchers said these significantly increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks and deaths.

The researchers recruited 186 Alzheimer’s-affected patients who showed a collection of symptoms including emotional distress, excessive movement, aggression, disruptive irritability and disinhibition.

During the nine-week study, the patients were separated into two groups.

About half took increasing doses of citalopram, peaking at 30 milligrams per day, while the rest took an identical-looking placebo.

The study results showed about 40 percent of the patients who took citalopram experienced “considerable relief” in terms of agitation compared to 26 percent of those who took the placebo.

However, patients on the drug are also more likely to have slightly decreased cognitive function.

“It was not huge but measureable,” said lead author Constantine Lyketsos, director of Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center and director of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. “That introduces a tradeoff.”

Patients on citalopram also had longer QTc intervals, a measure of abnormal heart function that increases the risk of heart attacks.

Lyketsos noted anti-psychotic medication increases heart attack risk as well and perhaps even more substantially.

The researchers next plan to test if a lower dose of citalopram might be just as effective in treating Alzheimer’s-related agitation but with less risk for cognition and heart function.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (PNA/Xinhua)