The current first wave of medications that doctors turn to in treating Alzheimer's disease medicines known as cholinesterase inhibitors are aimed at treating the confusion and memory loss of dementia by helping the brain cope with a deficiency of the brain chemical acetylcholine.
Now, in a new analysis of a previous study involving 978 patients and their families, scientists have shown that, as many patients and doctors have suspected, the medicines are much more than "memory drugs." Scientists found that a common cholinesterase inhibitor eases behavioral symptoms like agitation, depression, and psychosis in patients who already have those symptoms, and that the medication delays the onset of those behaviors in patients not yet displaying them.
Doctors also found that the medications ultimately ease distress among caregivers whose role is made easier when the patient's symptoms improve. While that may not come as a surprise to caregivers, it's an important distinction that hasn't been shown before, say the researchers, who point out that previous studies have focused on patients' cognition, not their behavior or its effects on caregivers.
"To our knowledge, this is the first time that it's been shown that the caregiver's stress level is less because the patient's behavior has improved," says Pierre Tariot, M.D., one of the authors and a professor of psychiatry, medicine, and neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
"Over time, it's become clearer and clearer that it's not just the patient who is distressed by his or her behavior, but the family as well. We decided may
Contact: Tom Rickey
University of Rochester Medical Center