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Published on 18 July 2011

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Antidepressants ‘provide no benefit’ for dementia patients

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An Institute of Psychiatry study published in The Lancet has shown that the commonly prescribed antidepressants sertraline and mirtazapine provide no benefit for patients with Alzheimer’s and depression, yet increase side effects. Depression is common amongst people with dementia.

Over 300 patients were recruited from nine centres in England in the largest study of its kind. The patients all had possible Alzheimer’s and depression lasting at least four weeks. The group was divided, with 107 receiving sertraline (target dose of 150 mg per day), 107 receiving mirtazapine (45 mg), and 111 taking a placebo, all with standard care.

Decreases in depression scores between the groups did not differ at 13 weeks, a finding that persisted to 39 weeks. Fewer members of the placebo group had adverse reactions (26%) than those taking sertraline (43%) or mirtazapine (41%) and fewer serious adverse events were recorded in the placebo group. Five patients in each group had died by week 39.

The report authors believe the findings should lead to the drugs being reconsidered as a first-line treatment of depression in Alzheimer’s disease.

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Research is telling us more about how common prescribed drug treatments used during dementia may be failing patients, or even harming them. Findings like these are helping us think again about how we care for people with dementia, improving the effectiveness and safety of treatment plans.

“Investment in dementia research remains pitifully low, and only by increasing investment can we have more hope of finding a treatment that can really change the lives of people with dementia today and in the future.”



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