Mental health provider receiving $1.3M for Alzheimer’s study


Louis Nykamp. Courtesy Pine Rest

A local mental health care organization is joining a national study to investigate treatments for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services is one of five organizations participating in a five-year study to investigate the use of electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, to treat severe agitation and aggression in Alzheimer’s patients.

The study is funded through an $11.8-million grant from the National Institute on Aging, or NIA.

Led by principal investigator Dr. Brent Forester of Belmont, Massachusetts-based McLean Hospital, researchers will collaborate with investigators at Pine Rest, Emory University, Mayo Clinic and Northwell Health. The Medical University of South Carolina will be the study’s data coordinating site.

Pine Rest will receive $1.3 million for the study from McLean. 

The study is the first randomized, double-blind, controlled study of the treatment on patients with these symptoms. It will compare how the ECT treatment plus standard treatments, such as antipsychotic medications and behavioral therapies, compares with standard therapies alone.

For the study, 200 patients will be enrolled across the five sites. It will be open to patients who have been admitted to any of the five participating sites and who have moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease, are experiencing agitation and aggression and who have not been responsive to other forms of treatment.

Enrollment is expected to begin in the spring.

The teams from the five hospitals will interact regularly with a board of experts and provide a yearly progress report to the NIA.

The Pine Rest principal investigator for the study is Dr. Louis Nykamp, Pine Rest’s geriatric fellowship director and ECT and transcranial magnetic stimulation clinic director.

Dr. Eric Achtyes, staff psychiatrist for Pine Rest, said the organization has been offering the ECT treatment for a long time.

“Several years ago, we conducted a pilot study of ECT in this patient population, which showed promising results for reducing agitation associated with dementia,” Achtyes said. “Now, thanks to this grant, we will be able to conduct a definitive study to assess the benefits and risks of using ECT for these individuals and the families who care for them.”

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