Antidepressant may boost brain function after stroke

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Impaired cognitive function is common and often permanent following stroke. However, new study findings suggest that treatment with antidepressants may help stroke sufferers recover brain function and improve psychological and social capacities.

Dr. Sergio Paradiso and associates at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City studied 47 stroke patients being admitted to a rehabilitation center. They were randomly assigned to an older antidepressant called nortriptyline, the newer antidepressant Prozac, or inactive placebo.

The patients were evaluated after 12 weeks of treatment and again 21 months later.

The investigators observed no differences among the treatment groups in executive function (overall reasoning and functioning) at the first evaluation or in overall cognitive functioning at the 12- and 21-month evaluations.

However, at the final assessment, those given an antidepressant demonstrated marked improvement in executive function, independent of whether they were depressed.

In contrast, all but one of the placebo-treated patients had deteriorated significantly.

In the final analysis taking into account various factors that may influence the results, the only factor having a significant, independent effect on executive function was antidepressant treatment.

These findings, the authors conclude, suggest that antidepressant medication may have a role after stroke, regardless of whether or not the individual shows signs of depression.

SOURCE: British Journal of Psychiatry March 2007.