Alzheimer's Drug Treats Stroke-Related Dementia

Studies find Aricept improves cognition, daily functions

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FRIDAY, June 25, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A drug used to treat Alzheimer's disease also appears to help fight another form of dementia caused by cardiovascular problems, according to new research.

The drug, donepezil, sold under the brand name Aricept, may help dementia resulting from stroke or other blood vessel ailments, according to two new studies presented Friday at the fifth annual World Stroke Congress in Vancouver, Canada.

Currently, there is no approved treatment for vascular dementia, and Aricept is approved only for use by Alzheimer's patients. However, a study released Thursday in the journal The Lancet seriously called into question its effectiveness in treating Alzheimer's. According to that study, patients on Aricept displayed no significant clinical benefit from the drug, either in terms of slowed progression of their disease or avoidance of admission into a nursing home, compared to patients not taking the medication.

Nonetheless, one of two studies presented at the conference found that Aricept "modestly yet significantly improved the ability to perform daily functions" in those with vascular dementia. The second study, performed on the same 1,219 patients, found that Aricept improved cognitive symptoms.

Aricept belongs to a class of drugs known as cholinesterase inhibitors, which block an enzyme that breaks down the brain messenger acetylcholine. The drug helps "helps to restore more normal communication between the nerve ending producing the message and the one receiving it," Dr. Sandra Black, a neurologist at the University of Toronto, said in a prepared statement.

Vascular dementia results from either an obvious or silent stroke or from the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Unlike Alzheimer's, in which memory problems are the most evident, dementia affects executive functions of the brain, such as planning and decision-making.

More information

Learn about dementia from the National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: American Heart Association news release, June 25, 2004

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