Developing new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease is an active area of research. Scientists are testing a number of drugs to see if they prevent Alzheimer’s disease, slow the disease, or help reduce behavioral symptoms.
There is evidence that inflammation in the brain may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and that drugs to cut down on inflammation may help. One recent study showed that two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs — rofecoxib and naproxen — did not slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in people already diagnosed.
Scientists believe, however, that anti-inflammatory drugs may still prove effective in preventing Alzheimer’s disease in people who are at risk, but who do not yet have symptoms of Alzheimer’s. A clinical prevention trial is now under way. A clinical trial is a research study on people to find out whether a new drug or treatment is both safe and effective.
Research has shown that vitamin E slows the progress of some consequences of Alzheimer’s disease by about 7 months. Scientists now are studying vitamin E to learn whether it can prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease in patients with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI.
Medicines already used to help reduce the risk of heart disease may help lower the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease or may slow its progression. Clinical trials of drugs known as statins have begun to see if they might help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies have shown that people with Alzheimer’s often have higher levels of an amino acid called homocysteine in their blood. Folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 can reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood, and scientists are conducting studies to see whether these substances can also slow rates of mental decline.
Research also is under way to see if estrogen reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or slows the disease. One study showed that estrogen does not slow the progression of already diagnosed disease, but more research is needed to find out if estrogen may play another role. For example, scientists now are trying to find out whether estrogen can prevent Alzheimer’s disease in women with a family history of the disease.
Estrogen and progesterone combination therapy is not recommended for prevention of cognitive decline or dementia. In one large national study of women 65 and older, Prempro, a specific form of combination hormone therapy, was found to double the risk of dementia in women on combination therapy when compared to those not taking the medication.
Recent research suggests that ginkgo biloba, an extract made from the leaves of the ginkgo tree, may be of some help in treating Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. There is no evidence that ginkgo will cure or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists now are trying to find out whether ginkgo biloba can delay or prevent dementia in older people.
People with Alzheimer’s disease and those with mild cognitive impairment who want to help scientists test new treatments may be able to take part in research studies, otherwise known as clinical trials. These research studies are done on people to find out whether a new drug or treatment is both safe and effective.
New therapies are tested on people only after laboratory and animal studies show promising results. The Food and Drug Administration sets strict rules to make sure that people who agree to be in the studies are treated as safely as possible.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health, through its National Library of Medicine and other Institutes, maintains a database of clinical trials at ClinicalTrials.gov. Click here to see a list of the current clinical trials on Alzheimer’s disease.