In a study published in The Lancet, (volume 378, Issue 9789, pages 403 - 411, 30 July 2011), Sube Banerjee MD, a London-based expert in old age psychiatry, and his colleagues concluded that because there was an absence of benefit compared with placebo and increased risk of adverse events, the practice of using these antidepressants should be reevaluated.
“Depression is one of the most important co-morbidities in dementia. It is a source of great distress yet the treatments we use are not proven,” said Dr. Banerjee.
In their parallel-group, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of more than 326 patients with Alzheimer’s dementia, decreases in depression scores at 13 and 39 weeks did not differ between 111 controls and 107 participants allocated to receive sertraline (Zoloft) or 108 who received mirtazapine (Remeron).
“I am surprised by just how unequivocal our findings are,” said lead author Banerjee, professor of mental health and aging at King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry, United Kingdom. “The present practice of use of these antidepressants with usual care for first-line treatment of depression in Alzheimer’s disease should be reconsidered,” write the authors.
“The message is to think before using antidepressants for depression in dementia. It may well be that these symptoms will resolve with the problem-solving and information-giving that is implicit in good-quality dementia care,” added Dr. Banerjee. The investigators suggest that antidepressants be reserved for “individuals whose depression has not resolved within 3 months of referral, apart from those in whom drug treatment is indicated by risk or extreme severity.”
Funding for this study was provided by the UK National Institute of Health Research HTA Programme.