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Celexa has shown early promise in treating agitation and psychotic symptoms of dementia

Researchers have found surprising evidence that an antidepressant, Citalopram ( Celexa, Seropram ), may perform as well as a commonly-prescribed antipsychotic, Risperidone ( Risperdal ), in the alleviation of severe agitation and psychotic symptoms of dementia. Researchers also found that the antidepressant was associated with significantly lower adverse side effects.

The study, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, is believed to be the first head-to-head comparison of an SSRI ( selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor ) with one of the more commonly prescribed second generation antipsychotics in older, non-depressed patients.

The findings are exciting because they raise the possibility of a new direction in drug treatment for psychotic disorders related to dementia in the elderly. However, the researchers caution that more studies are needed to replicate their early findings and that second generation antipsychotics continue to be a first-line pharmacological treatment, despite growing scientific evidence that they can be associated with serious side effects, including death.

The researchers conducted a double-blind randomized control trial of Citalopram and Risperidone to compare the efficacy and safety of the two drugs in 103 patients who were hospitalized with psychiatric disturbances related to dementia at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre.

In this 12-week clinical trial, 53 patients were given daily doses of Citalopram and 50 received daily doses of Risperidone. Overall, 43% of the participants completed the trial: 47% in the Citalopram group and 40% in the Risperidone group.
The dropout rate is typical for this vulnerable population and does not undermine the scientific validity of the findings.

The researchers were surprised to find that Citalopram and Risperidone had similar efficacy in reducing psychosis ( hallucinations, delusions, suspicious thoughts ) and agitation. Overall, there was a 32% reduction of symptoms with Citalopram and a 35% reduction with Risperidone.
Citalopram was associated with a significantly lower burden of adverse side effects, such as sedation, tension and apathy. Total side effect burden scores increased 19% for Risperidone and decreased by 4% with Citalopram.

Source: Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, 2007