New research has found that the drug memantine, which is licensed for use in Alzheimer’s disease, is not effective at reducing symptoms of agitation in people with the disease. The study is published on Wednesday 2 May in the journal PLoS One.
Researchers led by scientists at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, studied 153 people with Alzheimer’s disease who were in care homes or hospitals. All of the participants were agitated to an extent that their doctors had recommended intervention.
Although antipsychotic drugs can help to reduce severe agitation, research funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK has shown that their long-term use can double the risk of death in people with Alzheimer’s. Moves have since been made to reduce the use of antipsychotics in people with Alzheimer’s, but a safe alternative is still needed.
In this study, the researchers wanted to investigate whether memantine – a drug that is currently prescribed to help with some of the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as memory loss – could also help reduce symptoms of agitation. Half of the participants were given memantine for a period of 12 weeks, while the other half took a placebo. Their level of agitation was assessed at the start of the study, and was then re-assessed after two weeks, four weeks, six weeks and 12 weeks.
The researchers found no significant difference in agitation between the two different groups, suggesting that memantine is not effective at reducing these symptoms.
Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Severe agitation is a distressing symptom of Alzheimer’s that can be challenging for carers to cope with, and we need better ways to help people to manage these symptoms. While this study failed to find a positive effect for memantine, it underlines the need for a better, safer treatment that can reduce agitation in people with Alzheimer’s.
“New and effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia, can only come through research, but it will take a long-term, sustained effort. If we fail to invest in research, we will be failing the half a million people who are living with the disease.”