Scientists have discovered that an antidepressant called citalopram may be as effective at treating dementia as a commonly-prescribed drug.
According to the Toronto-based research group, citalopram may perform as well as the antipsychotic risperidone in the management of severe agitation and psychosis associated with dementia.
The findings could open new avenues for drug treatment with fewer adverse side effects.
While claiming to be "encouraged", the researchers stressed that further study, including a placebo group, was needed before conclusions can be drawn with confidence.
Lead investigator Dr Benoit Mulsant said: "We didn't expect that an antidepressant would have so-called antipsychotic properties.
"It reinforces our belief that psychosis and agitation have a different neurochemistry in older patients with dementia and in younger patients with schizophrenia, even though both groups of patients are currently treated with the same medications (antipsychotics)."
The study is published in the November issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.