Newswise — Hackensack Meridian Hackensack University Medical Center, Center for Memory Loss and Brain Health will be participating in a multicenter clinical trial to study the safety and efficacy of escitalopram, an antidepressant, for the treatment of agitation related to Alzheimer’s disease. This study is sponsored by the National Institute on Aging. Johns Hopkins University is the principal site and Hackensack University Medical Center will begin enrolling patients in the study starting in September 2021. 

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that results in weakened brain connections and loss of brain cells. These problems cause dementia, which may include problems with memory, thinking, mood and behavior. Mood and behavior problems may include sudden outbursts of anger, aggression or agitation.

Patients may be eligible for the study if they have received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, and experience frequent agitation or aggression. The study will last approximately six months. Patients will be randomized to receive either the study drug (escitalopram) or placebo (an inactive substance) in pill form.

“Agitation associated with Alzheimer’s disease can be a challenging symptom for caregivers and patients,” said Manisha Parulekar, M.D., AGSF, FACP, Division Chief, Geriatrics. “This study aims to find out if escitalopram, a currently available medication used to treat depression and anxiety, is safe and effective in helping reduce agitation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Finding new ways to use existing medications can help to improve quality of life for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones,” said Mark Sparta, FACHE, president and chief hospital executive, Hackensack University Medical Center. “We are proud of our research that advances the care of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.”

“Most patients with Alzheimer’s dementia develop symptoms of agitation and aggression at some point during the course of the illness. These behaviors make an already challenging diagnosis all the more difficult,” said Gary Small, M.D., Chair of Psychiatry at Hackensack University Medical Center and Behavioral Health Physician in Chief for Hackensack Meridian Health. “This important study will help address this difficult and common clinical condition in Alzheimer’s to improve the lives of our patients and their families.” 


Hackensack University Medical Center, a 771-bed nonprofit teaching and research hospital, is the largest provider of inpatient and outpatient services in New Jersey. Founded in 1888 as Bergen County's first hospital, it was the first hospital in New Jersey and second in the nation to become a Magnet®-recognized hospital for nursing excellence. The academic flagship of Hackensack Meridian Health, Hackensack University Medical Center ranked #1 in New Jersey and #7 in the New York metro area by U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-2022 “Best Hospitals” Honor Roll, making it the only hospital in New Jersey with the #1 adult and children’s hospital rankings. Hackensack University Medical Center is also rated as High Performing in 14 specialties procedures and conditions, and conditions, and sets the standard for all New Jersey hospitals in several specialties. Highlights include: New Jersey’s only nationally-ranked Neurology & Neurosurgery and Urology programs; also ranked nationally in Cardiology & Heart Surgery. New Jersey’s Best Urology and Neurology & Neurosurgery programs, ever since 2013. New Jersey’s Best Cancer Center is John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center, which is part of the NCI-designated Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. Cardiology & Heart Surgery, Gastroenterology & GI Surgery, Geriatrics and Orthopedics rank among the top in New Jersey. The campus is home to facilities such as John Theurer Cancer Center, the #1 hospital for cancer care in New Jersey in U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-2022 "Best Hospitals" Honor Roll; the Heart & Vascular Hospital, and the Sarkis and Siran Gabrellian Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, recognized as being in the top 1% of children’s hospitals in the nation and #1 children’s hospital in New Jersey by U.S. News & World Report’s 2021-22 "Best Hospitals" Honor Roll. Hackensack University Medical Center’s comprehensive clinical research portfolio includes studies focused on neuroscience, precision medicine, translational medicine, immunotherapy, cell therapy, and vaccine development. 


Hackensack Meridian Health is a leading not-for-profit health care organization that is the largest, most comprehensive and truly integrated health care network in New Jersey, offering a complete range of medical services, innovative research and life-enhancing care.


Hackensack Meridian Health comprises 17 hospitals from Bergen to Ocean counties, which includes three academic medical centers – Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, JFK Medical Center in Edison; two children’s hospitals - Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack, K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital in Neptune; nine community hospitals – Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, Ocean Medical Center in Brick, Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, and Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin; a behavioral health hospital – Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead; and two rehabilitation hospitals - JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison and Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Brick.


Additionally, the network has more than 500 patient care locations throughout the state which include ambulatory care centers, surgery centers, home health services, long-term care and assisted living communities, ambulance services, lifesaving air medical transportation, fitness and wellness center, rehabilitation centers, urgent care centers and physician practice locations. Hackensack Meridian Health has more than 36,000 team members, and 7,000 physicians and is a distinguished leader in health care philanthropy, committed to the health and well-being of the communities it serves.


The network’s notable distinctions include having more top-ranked hospitals than anyone in New Jersey, as recognized by U.S. News & World Report, 2020-21. Hackensack University Medical Center is the only hospital in New Jersey with the #1 adult and children’s hospital rankings.


John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center is New Jersey's best cancer center, as recognized by U.S. News & World Report, 2020-21.  This premier cancer center is also the largest and most comprehensive center dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, management, research, screenings, and preventive care as well as survivorship of patients  with all types of cancers. John Theurer Cancer Center is part of Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, an NCI designated comprehensive cancer center. 


Additionally, the network partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to ensure that patients have access to the highest quality, most individualized cancer care when and where they need it.


The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, the first private medical school in New Jersey in more than 50 years, welcomed its first class of students in 2018 to its campus in Nutley and Clifton. The Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI), housed in a fully renovated state-of-the-art facility, seeks to translate current innovations in science to improve clinical outcomes for patients with cancer, infectious diseases and other life-threatening and disabling conditions.


Hackensack Meridian Health is a member of AllSpire Health Partners, an interstate consortium of leading health systems, to focus on the sharing of best practices in clinical care and achieving efficiencies. To learn more, visit