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Citalopram Can Reduce Alzheimer’s Agitation

Citalopram Can Reduce Alzheimer’s Agitation A new multi-site U.S.-Canada study suggests that the antidepressant citalopram (brand names Celexa or Cipramil) may reduce symptoms of agitation associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Up to 90 percent of people with dementia experience symptoms of agitation such as emotional distress, restlessness, aggression, or irritability, which is upsetting for patients and places a huge burden on their caregivers,” said psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Bruce G. Pollock.

“These symptoms are a major reason why people go into long-term care prematurely.”

In a study found in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the antidepressant significantly relieved agitation in a group of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

“When agitation occurs, it’s paramount to try non-medication approaches first, such as looking for underlying physical discomfort in a patient, reducing external triggers such as noise or overstimulation, and encouraging light exercise,” said Pollock, director of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Research (CAMH) Institute in Toronto.

When these approaches don’t work, antipsychotic medications are commonly used to treat agitation.

“Antipsychotics are not an ideal therapy and significantly increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and sudden death,” he said.

Based on promising early findings from Europe, Pollock began conducting studies on citalopram, which suggested it might be a viable treatment alternative to antipsychotics.

To provide stronger evidence, the Citalopram for Agitation in Alzheimer’s Disease Study (CitAD) was initiated with eight leading Alzheimer’s research centers across the United States and Canada, including the Geriatric Program at CAMH.

The study included 186 patients with Alzheimer’s disease who showed symptoms of agitation. Their average age was in the late 70s. None had experienced symptom relief with non-medication therapies, and some had failed treatment with antipsychotic drugs.

The study measured both patients’ agitation levels as well as their caregivers’ stress levels, a factor strongly linked to Alzheimer’s patients’ well-being.

Patients were then randomly assigned to receive either citalopram for nine weeks, up to a dose of 30 milligrams per day, or an identical-looking placebo. At the end of the study period, the tests were repeated.

Patients on the drug had significant relief from their agitation symptoms. In one measure of agitation, about 40 percent of patients who took citalopram had “considerable relief” compared to 26 percent of patients who took the placebo.

In addition, caregivers for these patients had significantly lower levels of stress.

Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Citalopram Can Reduce Alzheimer’s Agitation

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Citalopram Can Reduce Alzheimer’s Agitation. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 20 Feb 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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