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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Antidepressant Eases Alzheimer's Burden

Zoloft Safely Treats Depression in People with Alzheimer's Disease
WebMD Health News

July 28, 2003 -- Alzheimer's disease can have devastating effects not only on the people with the memory-robbing disease, but also on their families and caregivers. But a new study shows treating the depression that often accompanies Alzheimer's disease with an antidepressant can help make the daily routine easier for all involved.

Researchers found treatment with the drug Zoloft, which is commonly prescribed to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder, significantly improved the quality of life for Alzheimer's patients with depression and reduced behavioral disturbances such as agitation, aggression and anxiety.

"Depression in Alzheimer's patients, and even Alzheimer's disease itself, often goes undiagnosed, in part because doctors feel they have little to offer in the form of treatment. This study shows that a simple treatment for depression improves the quality of life and seems to slow the functional decline of Alzheimer's disease," says researcher Constantine Lyketsos, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University, in a news release.

Although treatment with Zoloft had beneficial effects on the patient's daily lives, it did not improve their mental abilities that had deteriorated due to Alzheimer's, such as thinking, remembering, and learning.

Treatment Improves Quality of Life

Researchers say about 25% of people with Alzheimer's disease suffer from major depression. Depression is also a major cause of disability among Alzheimer's patients and has a negative impact on their quality of life.

In this study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers screened a group of Alzheimer's patients with depression to eliminate those with temporary or transient depression. The remaining 44 patients were then randomly assigned to receive a daily dose of Zoloft or a placebo each day for 12 weeks.

Researchers found 84% of those patients who took Zoloft had a favorable response compared to 35% who took the placebo. Zoloft-treated Alzheimer's patients showed significant improvement on measures of depression as well as quality of life.

In addition, those who took the antidepressant had fewer behavioral disturbances, and their caregivers reported less distress.

Based on the results of this study, Lyketsos and colleagues are now conducting a new study to examine the long-term effects of antidepressant treatment in people with Alzheimer's disease and specifically looking at how the treatment eases the burden of caregivers.

"This simple and safe treatment for depression has tremendous potential for improving the quality of life for both Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers," says Lyketsos.

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