Antidepressants Could Help Stroke Victims with Cognitive Thinking Skills

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Studies confirm over and over that antidepressants are not as helpful as we think for depression however it could be helpful for strokes. A new study from the University of Iowa suggests that patients who received the drug escitalopram following a stroke appeared to retain more of their cognitive thinking.

According to lead researcher to Ricardo E. Jorge, MD, global cognitive function scores improved significantly more with escitalopram (Lexapro) than with problem-solving therapy or placebo. "Adjunctive restorative therapies administered during the first few months after stroke, the period with the greatest degree of spontaneous recovery, reduce the number of stroke patients with significant disability," Jorge concluded.

The study was a small study and would clearly need to be completed on a much larger scale before a change in medical practice could be considered, said Dr. Michael Lupo, a spokesman for the American Stroke Association. Lupo, who was not involved in the research, also noted that it was a challenge for researchers to distinguish between depression and cognitive problems in stroke patients.

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"Stroke patients can be withdrawn, less focused and have attention problems," he said. "That is referred to as pseudo dementia. But that can also be just depression."

At this point in time, it is unclear how an SSRI would contribute to improved cognitive function after a stroke other than by preventing or treating depression. However, Jorge noted that SSRIs had been shown to increase nerve connections and promote growth of neurons.

The potential risks of antidepressant use among stroke patients are also unknown factor that will need to be researched in detail. "We didn't notice any significant safety problems," Jorge said. "But that doesn't mean these medications do not have side effects."

Jorge noted, however, that "whatever may be the mechanism of improved cognitive recovery...the utility of antidepressants in the process of post-stroke recovery deserves to be further investigated." He is hoping to demonstrate that antidepressants could help stoke victims with cognitive thinking skills.

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