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Antidepressants May Be Safer Than Antipsychotics For Alzheimer's Agitation

Update Date: Feb 18, 2014 06:22 PM EST

Antidepressants may help treat agitation in those with Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study.

Researchers found that the antidepressant drug citalopram, sold under the brand names Celexa and Cipramil and also available as a generic medication, successfully relieves agitation in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers believe that antidepressants might be safer than antipsychotic drugs that are currently used to threat the condition. Antipsychotic drugs have been shown to increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks and death, according to researchers.

The latest study involved 186 patients with Alzheimer's disease who exhibited symptoms including emotional distress, excessive movement, aggression, disruptive irritability and disinhibition.

For the study, patients underwent tests to measure the extent of their agitation, memory and other cognitive skills. Researchers also measured their caregivers' stress levels, which has been significantly linked to the wellbeing of Alzheimer's patients.

The patients were then separated into two groups. Half of the patients took increasing doses of citalopram that peaked at 30 milligrams per day, and the rest took an identical-looking placebo.

Afterwards, researcher administered the same groups of tests given at the beginning of the study as well as electrocardiograms. Previous studies revealed that citalopram increased the risk of irregular heartbeat, which can lead to heart attacks.

The findings revealed that citalopram significantly relieved agitation symptoms in patients. The findings revealed that about 40 percent of patients who took citalopram had "considerable relief" compared to 26 percent of patients who took the placebo. Researchers noted that caregivers also reported less stress.

However, researchers noted that patients taking the antidepressant are more likely to experience decreased cognitive function.

"It was not huge, but measureable," researcher Constantine Lyketsos, M.D., M.H.S., director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer's Treatment Center and director of the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, said in a news release. "That introduces a tradeoff."

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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