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for Alzheimer's Caregivers
Loss & the Brain - newsletter of the Memory Disorders
for Kids - Alzheimer's Disease
There may be new hope for Alzheimerâ€™s patients.
As this ScienCentral News video reports, a German drug tested in the U.S. seems
to slow down the disease in moderate to severely affected patients.
Drug Slows Down Alzheimerâ€™s
Connie Costa, 68, used to work in accounting. But about four years ago she
started having problems remembering things. She couldnâ€™t remember what
month or year it was and had problems writing even her name. Soon Connie was
diagnosed with Alzheimerâ€™s, a disease that affects about 4 million Americans,
to the Alzheimerâ€™s Association, and about 10 percent of the population
above 65 years of age.
“Alzheimerâ€™s is a terrible and terribly prevalent disease”,
Reisburg, clinical director of the Silberstein
Aging and Dementia Treatment and Research Center at New York University
School of Medicine. Experts estimate that in the coming years, as we live
longer and as baby boomers get older, there is going to be a steep rise in
the number of Alzheimerâ€™s patients.
So far, there is no cure no known prevention for Alzheimerâ€™s. Although
there is some medication, Reisburg points out, “All currently approved
medication has been shown to be effective only for mild and moderate Alzheimerâ€™s.”
But now Reisburg and his colleagues report
in the New England Journal of Medicine that a German drug called
could help patients in the more advanced stages of the disease.
Stages of Alzheimerâ€™s
Like most Alzheimerâ€™s patients, Connie Costa lost her memory first and
then slowly started losing other brain functions as well. “In the course
of Alzheimerâ€™s”, Reisburg explains, “patients lose the abilities
to carry out all basic capabilities. And they lose all their thinking abilities.”
professor of aging at University
of California Los Angelesâ€™s Neuropsychiatric Institute, says that
eventually Alzheimerâ€™s patients, “need total care; they canâ€™t
even feed themselves.” This is the stage when the disease gets enormously
challenging and demanding for the caregivers.
Connieâ€™s husband, Donald Costa, is happy to help his wife. “Hey
look,” he laughs, “she used to do everything. Now I do it. She
took care of me all my life, right? Thatâ€™s the way it is.” But
caring for an Alzheimerâ€™s patient isnâ€™t easy. “Care-givers
themselves get depressed and over-whelmed,” says Small.
Manufactured by Merz Pharmaceuticals,
Memantine was found to help patients maintain some of their functional abilities
longer, through the moderate to later stages of the disease. Reisburg and
his colleagues evaluated the effectiveness of the drug in the United States.
Merz Pharmaceuticals and the National
Institute on Aging funded the study that involved 252 Alzheimerâ€™s
patients at 32 different centers throughout the country. Patients received
either Memantine or a placebo (a “dummy” pill), twice a day for
six months. At the end of six months, patientsâ€™ daily functioning and
thinking capacities were tested. Reisbergâ€™s team found that Memantine
appeared to slow the progression of the disease by about 50 percent, in terms
of both the loss of capacities of the Alzheimerâ€™s patient and the loss
of thinking abilities. Reisburg thinks Memantine will be “a breath of
fresh air”—not only for patients, but also for caregivers.
How does Memantine work?
Nerve cells in the brain communicate via chemicals called neurotransmitters.
When a nerve cell is damaged it produces an excess of one of these chemicals
called glutamate. “The excess production of glutamate causes the receiving
nerve to get over-excited. “And this over-excitability leads to damage
and perhaps death of the receiving nerve,” explains Reisberg. “Memantine
blocks one of the receiving stations in the receiving nerve—one of the docking
stations for the chemical—and thereby blocks the over-excitability.”
This prevents cell damage and death.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
is currently reviewing the drug, and Reisburg is hopeful that the drug will
be available for use in the U.S. within the next year.