Trial to improve depression in dementia patients

A study being coordinated by Perkins centre WACHA, the WA Centre for Health & Ageing, is testing a new approach to treating depressive symptoms in people with Alzheimer's disease. Patient and doctor (stock photo)

About 50% of people with Alzheimer’s disease experience symptoms of depression. Unfortunately, current antidepressant drug treatments may not be helpful in improving their mood. Further to this, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has proved difficult with those with diminished cognitive abilities. This study aims to test a new type of treatment called ‘cognitive bias modification’ or CBM.

CBM is an easy to use computer-based intervention that aims to correct abnormalities of attention and interpretation that people with depression commonly experience. For example, people with depression tend to focus selectively on sad perceptions and thoughts that often contribute to make them feel downcast. CBM is designed to change those types of biases to break the vicious cycle of negative thoughts contributing to negative feelings, which in turn contribute to more negative perceptions and thoughts.

The WACHA study will ask participants to answer a few questions about their background (such as age, marital status, smoking and drinking habits) and past medical history. Participants will then undergo assessments to confirm the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and the presence of clinically significant depressive symptoms. Thereafter, a 30-minute session to assess attention and interpretation bias using one of our computers will be conducted.

During the following 10 days (weekends excluded), participants will be asked to return daily to the WA Centre for Health & Ageing at Royal Perth Hospital to complete the computer-based CBM sessions. Each session will last about 30-40 minutes.

After participants have completed the 10 scheduled sessions, they will be asked to return another two times for an assessment of their mood, quality of life and cognitive biases. The first return visit will happen the first working day after the final CBM session, and the last will be scheduled for 10 weeks later.

Half of the participants in this study will receive active CBM and the other half control CBM. The procedures in both groups are exactly the same.

If you, or someone you know, has a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and is currently experiencing depressive symptoms, and might be interested in this study, please contact WACHA on 9224 2855 or via email: and ask us about the RAPID study.

More information is available on WACHA


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