About half of all MS patients experience problems with memory and other cognitive functions. These problems are a leading cause of disability for people with MS. There are currently no drugs to treat this symptom of MS.
The study involved 69 people with MS and mild cognitive problems. Half of the participants took the drug donepezil for 24 weeks and the other half took a placebo. The participants were given tests of memory and other cognitive functions at the beginning and end of the study.
At the end of the study, those taking donepezil improved by an average of 14 percent on the memory test, compared to a 3-percent improvement for those taking the placebo. And 66 percent of those taking the drug felt that their memory had improved, compared to 32 percent of those taking the placebo.
"The possibility that memory and cognitive impairment in MS could benefit from drug treatment is of major importance to patients and their families," said study author and neurologist Lauren Krupp, MD, of Stony Brook University Hospital in New York. "Any treatment that would enhance their ability to meet the mental challenges of their daily lives would be helpful."
Krupp said that a larger study should be done to confirm these results.
"MS patients typically take several drugs already, so before any new treatment is added for symptoms, we should have strong evidence that it will truly be beneficial," she said.
There were no serious side effects from the drug. Those taking donepezil were more likely to have unusual or abnormal dreams than those taking the placebo.
The researchers don't know how donepezil may work in the brain to help improve memory in people with MS. Donepezi
Contact: Marilee Reu
American Academy of Neurology