GRAND RAPIDS — Pine Rest Christian Mental Services was one of five organizations selected to participate in a federally-funded study on treating people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The $11.8 million, five-year study supported by the National Institutes on Aging will look at the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to treat severe agitation and aggression in Alzheimer’s patients. The study will involve 200 patients and occur at five clinical sites, including at Pine Rest in Grand Rapids.
Researchers at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School Affiliate, will lead the study. Pine Rest received a $1.3 million sub-grant from McLean to participate.
“We have been interested in the use of ECT for the treatment of advanced dementia for many years and have been offering this treatment to patients and families for a long time,” said Dr. Eric Achtyes, a staff psychiatrist at Pine Rest and an associate professor and chair of the department of psychiatry west at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
“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.”
Enrollment in the study should begin in the spring. McLean Hospital researchers will collaborate with investigators at Pine Rest; Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.; the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.; and Northwell Health in New York City. The Medical University of South Carolina will serve as the study’s data coordinating site.
Agitation and aggression are common in patients in the late stages of Alzheimer’s dementia, said Dr. Louis Nykamp, Pine Rest’s geriatric fellowship director and clinic director for electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation. Nykamp will serve as Pine Rest’s principal investigator for the study.
“Many people can think of a family member or friend to whom this has occurred. There are currently no approved treatments and the medications typically used for these complications of the illness can come with troublesome side effects and often they don’t work as well as we’d hope,” Nykamp said. “Pilot studies of ECT for these symptoms have been promising, and it has been a part of our clinical practice at Pine Rest to offer this when symptoms have been severe and refractory. We are very fortunate to have this grant opportunity to collaborate with excellent partners to study the effectiveness of ECT for severe agitation in dementia.”