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Placebo responses raise significant challenges for the design of clinical trials. We report changes in agitation outcomes in the placebo arm of a recent trial of citalopram for agitation in Alzheimer's disease (CitAD).
In the CitAD study, all participants and caregivers received a psychosocial intervention and 92 were assigned to placebo for nine weeks. Outcomes included Neurobehavioral Rating Scale agitation subscale (NBRS-A), modified AD Cooperative Study-Clinical Global Impression of Change (CGIC), Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI), the Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI) Agitation/Aggression domain (NPI A/A) and Total (NPI-Total) and ADLs. Continuous outcomes were analyzed with mixed-effects modeling and dichotomous outcomes with logistic regression.
Agitation outcomes improved over nine weeks: NBRS-A mean (SD) decreased from 7.8 (3.0) at baseline to 5.4 (3.2), CMAI from 28.7 (6.7) to 26.7 (7.4), NPI A/A from 8.0 (2.4) to 4.9 (3.8), and NPI-Total from 37.3 (17.7) to 28.4 (22.1). The proportion of CGI-C agitation responders ranged from 21 to 29% and was significantly different from zero. MMSE improved from 14.4 (6.9) to 15.7 (7.2) and ADLs similarly improved. Most of the improvement was observed by three weeks and was sustained through nine weeks. The major predictor of improvement in each agitation measure was a higher baseline score in that measure.
We observed significant placebo response which may be due to regression to the mean, response to a psychosocial intervention, natural course of symptoms, or nonspecific benefits of participation in a trial.
Little is known about the effect of methylphenidate (MPH) on attention in Alzheimer's disease (AD). MPH has shown to improve apathy in AD, and both apathy and attention have been related to dopaminergic function. The goal was to investigate MPH effects on attention in AD and assess the relationship between attention and apathy responses.
MPH (10 mg PO twice daily) or placebo was administered for six weeks in a randomized, double-blind trial in mild-to-moderate AD outpatients with apathy (Neuropsychiatric Inventory (NPI) Apathy ≥ 4). Attention was measured with the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – Digit Span (DS) subtest (DS forward, selective attention) and apathy with the Apathy Evaluation Scale (AES). A mixed effects linear regression estimated the difference in change from baseline between treatment groups, defined as δ (MPH (DS week 6–DS baseline)) – (placebo (DS week 6–DS baseline)).
In 60 patients (37 females, age = 76 ± 8, Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) = 20 ± 5, NPI Apathy = 7 ± 2), the change in DS forward (δ = 0.87 (95% CI: 0.06–1.68), p = 0.03) and DS total (δ = 1.01 (95% CI: 0.09–1.93), p = 0.03) favored MPH over placebo. Of 57 completers, 17 patients had improved apathy (≥3.3 points on the AES from baseline to end point) and 40 did not. There were no significant associations between AES and NPI Apathy with DS change scores in the MPH, placebo, AES responder, or non-responder groups. DS scores did not predict apathy response to MPH treatment.
These results suggest MPH can improve attention and apathy in AD; however, the effects appear independent in this population.
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