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New study to treat people with Alzheimer’s disease and depression

Posted: 15/07/21

Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) is one of 24 sites across the country taking part in the Pathfinder study, which uses therapy not yet widely available in the UK.

The purpose of the study is to adapt a form of talking therapy called Problem Adaption Therapy for people with Alzheimer’s disease who have become depressed. The study will trial this newly adapted therapy for people with Alzheimer’s disease, to see if it is a good treatment to provide to NHS patients.

It aims to reduce negative emotions associated with depression, including depressed mood, hopelessness, helplessness, guilt and anxiety, as well as promoting positive emotions and pleasurable activities.

Dr Charlotte Allan is a Consultant Psychiatrist in CNTW’s Memory Assessment and Management Service (MAMS). She said: “There are few good treatments available for patients with dementia and depression. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can be helpful but isn’t the best option for everyone and anti-depressants are not always effective.

“By looking at a new psychological talking therapy, we hope to improve the quality of life of the patients we work with.”

This is the first study into depression and dementia that CNTW has done and Trust therapists have been trained specifically to deliver Problem Adaption Therapy.

Normally, the Trust would treat depression in Alzheimer’s disease with medication, CBT or social interventions, for example, trying to engage people in community activities or practical tasks they struggle with at home.

If the new therapy is shown to be effective, it may become part of the Trust’s services providing an extra layer of support to those who need it.

Dr Allan said: “Depression in older people is often under-recognised and under-treated. People might think low mood is inevitable in old age but that’s not correct. There are challenges associated with ageing, but people need to recognise that depression is a very treatable condition.

“The presentation of depression is often different in older people. They might present with physical complaints and say they’re feeling unwell rather than they have a low mood. There’s still a difference between generations; lots of older people were not brought up to share their feelings and find depression harder to talk about.”

Difficulties with memory and concentration often mean people with Alzheimer’s disease give up some of the activities they previously enjoyed. This, together with changes that take place in the brain as part of the illness, means that people with Alzheimer’s disease are vulnerable to developing depression in which they feel persistently unhappy and distressed, and are unable to enjoy what would normally be pleasurable experiences.

CNTW currently has 12 patients taking part in the trial, with space to recruit more. Participants need to have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, have depression, and live in their own homes.

If you would like to take part in the study, please contact Study Coordinator Nadia Burman on 07971030758.

CNTW is a leading provider of mental health and disability services in the North East and north Cumbria.