MS Patients Benefit From Alzheimer’s Drug: Donepezil

A drug widely used for treating dementia in Alzheimer's patients has been shown to improve memory and cognition in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who are mild to moderately cognitively impaired. Study details and results will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology 56th Annual Meeting in San Francisco, Calif., April 24 – May 1, 2004.

Most MS patients and their doctors focus primarily on managing the physical manifestations that characterize the disease, yet an estimated 50 percent of the patients will also face varying degrees of cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment can include difficulties with problem-solving, attention, learning and memory, and can lead to loss of jobs, social withdrawal, and changes in mood.

Only 10 percent of all MS patients will experience severe cognitive impairment, but even mild impairment can interfere significantly in a patient's life. Researchers from State University of New York, Stony Brook, have demonstrated that donepezil, a drug that has been successful in treating symptoms of dementia in Alzheimer's patients, may also show promise in treating cognitively impaired MS patients.

Sixty-nine MS patients from Stony Brook University Medical Center participated in a 24-week double blind clinical trial. Eligibility criteria included at least mild impairment on a verbal learning and memory task, and an absence of severe depressive symptoms. Some were given donepezil 10 mg daily, and some were given placebo. "The donepezil group displayed greater improvement on the verbal memory function test and experienced a greater reduction in cognitive deficits than did the placebo group," notes study author Lauren Krupp, MD, director of neuropsychology research.

More than 65 percent of the donepezil group reported that their memory had improved with treatment, versus 32 percent of those in the placebo group. Cognitive improvement was also seen in almost twice as many donepezil versus placebo patients. Donepezil treatment had no impact on measures of affect or fatigue. "Based on our findings in this limited study, a larger, multi-center investigation of donepezil with cognitively impaired MS patients is warranted," concludes Krupp.

This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the National Center for Research Resources. The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 18,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, autism and multiple sclerosis. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit its website at www.aan.com/press/.

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