University of Iowa researcher Dr Ricardo Jorge led the study, in which 43 patients received 10mg of escitalopram daily, participated in a problem-solving programme or received placebo for 12 weeks.
Cognitive function scores which assessed thinking, learning and memory were higher in the patients who received escitalopram, the study found.
'Importantly, the reported changes in neuropsychological performance resulted in an improvement in related activities of daily living,' the researchers said.
Stroke patients benefit most from restorative therapies given within the first few months after the event, when spontaneous recovery is most likely. Effective intervention at this stage is more likely to minimise long-term disability.
Helen Rodgers, professor of stroke care at Newcastle University, said cognitive and emotional problems can have an impact upon recovery and relationships, but are not necessarily related to stroke severity.
'Unfortunately, the focus of service provision and research is often on the physical rather than the psychological consequences of stroke so research to look at ways of improving cognitive function after stroke is very welcome,' she said. 'This is a well-designed study which has been undertaken to a high standard.'
Professor Rodgers added that because this was a small single centre study, further evaluation of antidepressants in post-stroke recovery must be carried out.
Joe Korner, communications director at The Stroke Association, agreed that cognitive impairment is all too common after a stroke so it is vital to find ways to restore brain function.
'A third of people who have had a stroke may have depression. This research is interesting in that an antidepressant seems to have had a positive effect on cognitive function.'