A drug used to treat moderate to severe symptoms of Alzheimer's gives new hope to Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers. Memantine - identified after its success with patients in a nursing home in Latvia - was approved for use by European Union countries in 2002 and for the U.S. market in 2004.
A study published in the January issue of Archives of Neurology updates previous research. "What we found was that the effects that we saw over the six month period for the patients who received the Memantine treatment in the initial six months seemed to be, in some, maintained over the subsequent six month period," says lead author Dr. Barry Reisberg of New York University Medical Center. He adds, "The medication appears to be effective and useful over a full one year period."
Subjects on a placebo who were switched to the medication after six months also enjoyed the drug's benefits. "The patients showed the kind of improvement that we saw in the initial phase of the study for the patients who had received the active treatment initially," says Dr. Reisberg. At the end of the one year period, he says they "had just about caught up to the Memantine treated patients."
The medication slows the loss of cognitive function and the ability to perform daily tasks such as eating, dressing and bathing in the later stages of the disease when symptoms are most severe. Dr. Reisberg says Alzheimer's is a tragic and tragically common illness that affects millions of people worldwide.
No drug exists to stop the disease. He says while scientists continue to hunt for a cure, the burden of managing Alzheimer's rests largely on the family. "Certainly care and the kinds of care that family members can and do provide is very important," he says.
Dr. Reisberg says properly-managed home care, combined with medication that can slow down the disease, can help Alzheimer's patients be more fully engaged in life -- even in the final stages of the disease.