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Caregiving and Eldercare
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Caregiving for a Person with Alzheimer's Disease or Other Dementia

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Sertraline Effectively Treats Depression in Alzheimer's Patients

A large portion of the 4 million Americans with Alzheimer's disease (AD) — a progressive degenerative disease of the brain that results in memory loss, impaired thinking, and personality change — also suffer from major depression. This can make the already devastating condition even more difficult, not only for patients, but also for their caregivers. Until recently, the efficacy of antidepressants in such patients was uncertain. Now, a study from The American Journal of Psychiatry shows that sertraline (Zoloft) a type of antidepressant known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) is more effective than placebo in reducing depression in patients with AD. This study is the first to show both the efficacy and safety of an SSRI in treating depression in patients with AD.

A team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Copper Ridge Institute in Maryland selected 22 patients with Alzheimer's disease who also met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) criteria for having had a major depressive episode. Over the course of the 12 week double-blind trial, the scientists gave the patients, whose average age was 77, either a placebo or up to 150 milligrams of sertraline per day. All patients and caregivers received illness education, encouragement, and emotional support every three weeks over the course of treatment.

The scientists found that AD patients who had been given sertraline experienced significantly greater improvements in mood than patients who received a placebo. In addition, the sertraline patients experienced less decline than placebo patients in participation in daily activities.

Side effects of the drug included tremor, restlessness, and gastrointestinal complaints. But all were mild, and there was no significant difference in side effects between the sertraline group and the placebo group.
April 2001 Update

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