The International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology

Research Article

Antidepressive therapy with escitalopram improves mood, cognitive symptoms, and identity memory for angry faces in elderly depressed patients

Egemen Savaskana1 c1, Sandra E. Müllera2, Andreas Böhringera3, André Schulza3 and Hartmut Schächingera3

a1 Division of Psychiatry Research and Psychogeriatric Medicine, Zürich, Switzerland

a2 Psychiatric University Clinics, Basel, Switzerland

a3 Division of Clinical Physiology, Institute of Psychobiology, University of Trier, Germany


Depression is a common disorder in the elderly handicapping patients with affective and cognitive symptoms. Because of their good tolerability relative to the older tricyclic compounds, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are increasingly used for the treatment of depression in the elderly. Little is known about their effects on cognition in elderly patients. In the present 4-wk, single-centre, randomized, open-label trial we investigated the antidepressive effects of escitalopram, an SSRI, in 18 elderly depressed patients [mean age (±s.e.m.) 76.2±1.8 yr] compared to 22 healthy age-matched controls (mean age 76.9±1.8 yr). Affective and cognitive symptoms were assessed using the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), and a face portrait recognition test to assess memory for happy and angry faces. Depressed patients prior to treatment had markedly reduced memory performance. Treatment with escitalopram improved affective and cognitive symptoms significantly. Furthermore, escitalopram treatment improved memory for negative facial stimuli. Control subjects confirmed the well- established memory bias favouring recognition of identities acquired with happy expressions. Importantly, this bias was absent in depressed patients prior to, but also after treatment. In conclusion, escitalopram, even after a relatively short treatment period, was effective in treating depression in the elderly and may help improve cognitive performance for social stimuli.

(Received March 05 2007)

(Reviewed April 25 2007)

(Revised June 28 2007)

(Accepted July 15 2007)

(Online publication August 13 2007)


c1 Address for correspondence: E. Savaskan, M.D., Division of Psychiatry Research and Psychogeriatric Medicine, Psychiatric University Hospital, Minervastr. 145, P.O. 1682, CH-8032 Zürich, Switzerland. Tel.: ++41 44 389 16 58 Fax: ++41 44 389 14 14 E-mail: