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Could a drug used to treat depression also be used to slow down the progress of dementia? We take a look at the evidence behind last week’s exciting news story

If you were diagnosed with depression back in the 1960’s chances are your doctor might have written a prescription for an antidepressant called Trazadone.

Trazadone has now fallen from favour as a treatment for depression, mainly because of its sedative qualities (today, it’s more likely to be prescribed as a short term sleeping pill) and has been replaced by more modern SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac (fluoxetine).

However, the results of a new study out last week revealed that this old school anti- depressant may have another use; as a treatment for dementia. Laboratory research carried out on mice (not humans) has shown that Trazadone can restore memory and reduce signs of neurodegeneration. This is potentially excellent news, but scientist were keen to stress that their research is still in its very early stages…and it’s only been tested on mice. There’s no guarantee therefore that it will have the same effect when it’s trialled on human beings who have neurodegenerative diseases.

If all goes well and Trazadone is found to be safe and effective, there could still be quite a lengthy wait before it’s actually available to patients with dementia. Although Trazadone is already licenced for use in older adults (as an approved drug for depression and sleep problems it has passed rigorous safety tests ) this doesn’t mean that doctors can simply start prescribing it now for dementia.

A few news reports last week suggested Trazadone could be available on prescription for dementia within two years. However, whilst newspaper editors might be extremely excited, scientists themselves are more cautious, saying only that it could be ‘several years’ before the drug becomes available for use.

So whilst the research news itself is very promising, we may have to wait a little longer to find out if Trazadone really is the ‘breakthrough’ dementia drug we’re all hoping for.