MONDAY, Dec. 12, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- While giving the male hormone testosterone to men with mild Alzheimer's disease doesn't sharpen their cognitive skills, it does appear to improve their quality of life, researchers report.
Hormone therapies to slow the effects of Alzheimer's have been the focus of research attention in recent years, since male aging is associated with a gradual progressive decline in testosterone levels. Decline in testosterone levels is linked to decreased muscle mass and strength, osteoporosis, decreased libido, mood alterations and changes in cognition, the researchers note.
This age-related decline in testosterone may be relevant to Alzheimer's, since earlier studies have found significantly lower concentrations of testosterone in men who developed Alzheimer's, the authors point out.
Their report appears in the Dec. 12 early online edition of the Archives of Neurology.
Earlier reports indicated that testosterone improves cognitive ability in older men, and the research team led by Po H. Lu, an assistant clinical professor of neurology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, had hoped to find the same effect in men with Alzheimer's.
Unfortunately, the researchers did not find that testosterone improved cognition. "Testosterone seems to improve the quality of life in Alzheimer's disease patients, as observed by a caregiver," Lu said.
In their study, Lu's team randomly assigned 16 men with mild Alzheimer's to receive testosterone or a placebo over 24 weeks. At the start and end of the trial, Lu's group gave the men standardized tests that assessed cognitive functions and quality of life.
The researchers found that Alzheimer's patients treated with testosterone had significant improvements in the scores on the quality-of-life scale as reported by their caregivers.
However, there was no significant difference in cognitive scores in either group. In addition, among 22 healthy patients in the trial, testosterone treatment also appeared to improve quality of life.
"Alzheimer's is becoming epidemic," Lu said. "There is an urgency to explore treatment for this population and become creative in doing so. Testosterone is benign in terms of its tolerability, and something that can be used to improve the overall quality of life."
One expert doesn't think that this study adds anything to Alzheimer's treatment.
"This is fundamentally a negative study," said Dr. David A. Bennett, director of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center. "Alzheimer's disease is cognition, so if you are not affecting cognition and you get a nonspecific quality of life improvement, I don't know what this means," he added.
Since the quality of life was evaluated by caregivers it may not be a true picture of the patient, Bennett noted. "Just because you improve the caregiver's quality of life doesn't mean you improve the patient's," he said.
This study is too small and too preliminary to lead to sweeping conclusions, added William Thies, vice president for medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer's Association. "The results are not particularly strong," he said.
Thies doesn't think that, based on this study, testosterone has any place in the treatment of Alzheimer's. "Unless there is a reason to include testosterone in your general care, most physicians would be highly resistant to using testosterone as some sort of treatment for Alzheimer's disease," he said.
The Alzheimer's Association can tell you more about Alzheimer's disease.