Management of Depression in Patients with Dementia: Is Pharmacological Treatment Justified?

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Depression in the context of dementia is common and contributes to poorer outcomes in individuals and those who care for them. Non-pharmacological treatments are the preferred initial approach to managing these symptoms but data in support of these are scarce. There are a number of pharmacological treatment options available to clinicians but efficacy is uncertain and concern about potential side effects in an aging and vulnerable population needs to be taken into consideration. This review aims to provide a concise overview of pharmacological treatments for depression in dementia. Antidepressants are the mainstay of pharmacological treatment for clinically significant depression in the general population but evidence to support their use in dementia is mixed. Trials of antidepressants should generally be reserved for individuals with depression where the symptoms are distressing and surpass the threshold for major depression. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and memantine are effective in the symptomatic treatment of Alzheimer’s disease but current evidence does not support their use to treat depressive symptoms in dementia. Similarly, antipsychotics and mood stabilizers have no proven efficacy for depression and the risk of adverse effects seems to outweigh any potential benefit. Pain can be a frequent problem in dementia and may have significant effects on behavior and mood. Preliminary evidence supports a role of adequate analgesia in improving mood in people with dementia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-95
Number of pages7
JournalDrugs and Aging
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


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