Dementia and antidepressants have gone hand in hand in the past; with a high rate of depression among dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, it was seemingly logical to routinely prescribe antidepressants. However British researchers published a study yesterday in “The Lancet” that urges doctors to take pause before writing those prescriptions. The two drugs discussed are sertraline (Zoloft) and mirtazapine (Remeron). These drugs were found to be not only less effective than a placebo, but also caused side effects like severe nausea and drowsiness. In the 326 Alzheimer’s patients examined in this study, after 39 weeks there were no differences (other than the side effects) among people using sertraline, mirtazapine or a placebo with their depression symptoms.
So if antidepressants have side effects and may not even be effective, what to do for those suffering from mild to severe cognitive impairment? Getting these patients outdoors if possible may be one solution. Though not always possible with advanced Alzheimer’s, with milder cognitive impairment, exercise can improve mood significantly.
There is also some evidence that exercise may even help improve cognitive impairment. Recent research from the University of Washington has shown that exercise may help. The study examined 33 adults with mild cognitive impairment who were assigned to an exercise group, either performing aerobic exercises or stretching exercises for up to one hour per day, four days a week, for six months. The control group of 10 individuals performed supervised stretching exercises according to the same schedule but their heart rates remained low. Fitness testing, body fat analysis, blood tests of metabolic markers and cognitive functions were evaluated before, during and after the six-month trial. Overall, participants in the higher-intensity aerobic exercise group experienced improved cognitive function compared with those in the control group. These effects were more pronounced in women than in men, despite similar benefits in heart health and fat loss. Researchers theorize that this may have been the case because women and men have different metabolic tendencies; changes to the body’s use and production of insulin, glucose and the stress hormone cortisol differed in men and women. Nevertheless, both women and men who engage in aerobic exercise showed improvement in executive function.
To help cut your dementia or cognitive impairment, consider taking a simple daily walk outside.