Harvard Health Letter

Do antidepressants work in the damaged brain?

Results have been discouraging for Alzheimer's disease, but they may help stroke patients in a variety of ways.

Alzheimer's disease and the depression that often affects people starting at about age 65 can easily be mistaken for one another. Depression can cause dementia-like deficits in memory and other mental functions, and Alzheimer's disease can cause depressive-like apathy and withdrawal.

But many Alzheimer's patients don't just appear to be depressed. Perhaps up to 30% of them are depressed, although depression in people with dementia may be expressed in atypical ways (see sidebar below). Some studies have also found depression to be common among people with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that may precede full-blown Alzheimer's disease.

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