Modafinil Improves Memory in Patients Recovering from Depression

MODAFINIL, a drug traditionally used to treat excessive daytime sleepiness, can also be used to improve the memory of patients with remitted depression, a new study from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, has found.

Patients with depression often experience cognitive dysfunction which persists after mood symptoms recover. Currently available treatments are reported to not specifically address cognitive deficits in depression. The findings of this study show that modafinil may be a feasible option to tackle these cognitive problems.

Sixty patients aged between 18 and 65 years in the recovery phase of depression were enrolled in the study. At a baseline session, the cognitive functions of the patients were assessed with tests of working memory, planning, attention, and episodic memory. One week later, patients were randomised into double-blind groups to receive either a 200 mg dose of modafinil or placebo 2 hours before repeating the assessments.

The results showed that patients receiving modafinil did perform better in planning or sustained attention tests but it did perform significantly on tests of episodic memory (p=5.01, ηp2=5.10) and working memory (p=5.04, ηp2=5.06). These two types of memory are important for day-to-day activities, explained senior authour of the study’s paper, Prof Barbara Sahakian, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK. “We use episodic memory when we are remembering where we left our keys in the house, or remembering where we parked our car,” she said. “Working memory, on the other hand, is the ability we use when we are rehearsing a new telephone number while we are trying to find a pen and paper to write it down, for example.”

“These results are very promising,” commented lead author Dr Muzaffer Kaser, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK: “General practitioners or psychiatrists often hear complaints of concentration or memory difficulties from patients with depression, but we are not good enough at treating these symptoms. Our study shows that modafinil may be a feasible option to tackle persistent cognitive problems in depression.”

Prof Sahakian added: “We now need a longer-term study using modafinil to see if the drug, which improves cognition and motivation, can facilitate successful return to work following depression.”

Jack Redden, Reporter

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