Research aims to improve treatment and support for patients with agitation due to Alzheimer's disease


LONDON, ON – Two new interventional studies have been brought to London, focused on improving quality of life for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. Both hope to improve upon standard approaches to treating agitation, a core symptom of Alzheimer’s.

“These studies are designed to have a direct impact on patients, families and care providers, to improve quality of life and function in those suffering from agitation due to Alzheimer’s,” says Dr. Amer Burhan, Associate Scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson) and Geriatric Neuropsychiatrist, St. Joseph’s Health Care London (St. Joseph’s).

Parkwood Institute, a part of St. Joseph’s, is one of multiple sites participating in these studies across Canada and the United States.

Agitation is a significant source of stress for patients and caregivers. It is complex and difficult to treat. Often, families do not know about this particular symptom of Alzheimer’s and are not properly trained on how to manage care while dealing with agitation.

One study aims to identify patients while they are living at home or in the community, and apply a comprehensive psychosocial approach, with or without medication, to help with the management of agitation.

Psychosocial intervention is a way of helping patients and caregivers understand the reasons for agitation. It can include communicating with patients in a manner that creates calm, scheduling meaningful activities, and maintaining routine and rhythm in life. The research team will connect with families early after diagnosis to give them the tools and support they need.

Initially, participants will be treated using structured psychosocial intervention to help reduce and manage their agitation. After three weeks, they will be reassessed and if significant agitation continues to persist, the patient will be randomly selected to receive either a placebo, or medication known as S-Citalopram to treat agitation while they continue to receive psychosocial care.

Participants are still able to receive care from their primary physician and care teams, with the study providing an added layer of support.

Another study is focused on Alzheimer’s patients who are admitted to hospital or living in long-term care. The aim is to standardize the approach to care for agitation related to Alzheimer’s. After baseline assessment, participants will be randomized to receive the current treatment as per usual, or an integrated care pathway derived from evidence-informed treatment guidelines. These include washing out medications that have not helped, adding individualized behavioral and environmental support, and if medications are needed, use a specific set of medications and dosages based on best evidence.

“Better understanding agitation is a growing area of interest in geriatric research. The work being done locally is part of an international effort to create a paradigm shift in treating patients with Alzheimer’s disease and agitation,” explains Dr. Burhan.

Researchers are ready to offer these studies to patients and their families, hoping to make these treatment protocols an integral part of care for patients with agitation due to Alzheimer’s disease. Those interested in learning more about these studies can contact Dr. Burhan at @email or call 519-646-6100 x. 48170.

This is one example of how Lawson is contributing to making Ontario Healthier, Wealthier and Smarter.



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Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit

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