A new study conducted at eight university medical centers, including the UR Medical Center (URMC), has indicated that the antidepressant drug Citalopram may have a calming effect on victims of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Care, Research, and Education Program at URMC Anton Porsteinsson M.D., Alzheimer’s patients are frequently affected by agitation, becoming stressed as well as exhibiting verbal or physical aggression towards their caregivers and loved ones. The antipsychotic medications commonly used to treat these symptoms are associated with severe side effects, such as an increased risk of death, but must be used regardless because most other options are not as effective.

The new study found that a drug called Citalopram can mitigate the agitation of elderly Alzheimer’s patients. Citalopram belongs to a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and is most often used in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and OCD.

There were 186 patients involved in the study, half of whom were placed in a control group and given a placebo medication. The other half was given high doses of Citalopram, starting with 10 milligrams per day and increasing gradually to 30 mg per day. This group showed improvement, researchers said, with reduced symptoms of agitation.

Over half of the medicated group showed noticeable improvement that, according to Porsteinsson, was equal to or perhaps greater than improvement from more commonly used drugs.

There are some caveats to the use of Citalopram. In an advisory that was incidentally published three-quarters of the way through the Alzheimer’s study, the Food and Drug Administration warned that high doses of the drug can cause cardiac irregularities. The study researchers began electrocardiogram tests on the patients and found that heartbeat irregularities were indeed present in the medicated group, along with a slight, unexpected decline in cognitive function.
Researchers reduced the dosage of Citalopram to 20 mg per day for the remainder for the study. Dr. Porsteinsson noted, however, that further research will help show whether these lower doses of the drug are equally effective at treating agitation.

Despite adverse affects at high doses, Porsteinsson said  Citalopram may be a helpful to elderly patients suffering fromAlzheimer’s-related agitation.

Passanisi is a member of the class of 2017.

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