The number of people worldwide living with dementia is expected to double in the next 15 years. (Via Flickr / Ann Gordon)
That's one reason why a medical breakthrough reported Wednesday is getting so much attention. American researchers say antidepressants could be the secret to stopping the effects of Alzheimer's disease on the brain. (Via National Institutes of Health)
Specifically, the antidepressant known as citalopram might be capable of stopping the buildup of brain plaques, which cause the memory loss and mental decline associated with Alzheimer's.
Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Pennsylvania found this method successful both in the data they studied and in observations of mice and humans treated with antidepressants.
JOHN CIRRITO: "Having less plaques in the brain didn't track very well with whether they had depression or not. It was weather they had been treated with antidepressants or not. People who had been treated at any point in the last five years with antidepressants, actually had less plaques in the brain." (Via Washington University, CBS)
Two experiments helped researchers reach that conclusion. In one, older mice were treated with the citalopram antidepressant, reducing the production of the main protein in brain plaques by 78 percent within 24 hours. The same treatment for younger humans reduced it by 37 percent. (Via Flickr / Ooga_booga, Health Day News)
The next step? Testing their theory on older humans with Alzheimer's. Still, because many antidepressants can have side effects, the researchers say don't embrace the treatment until there's further proof it works.