New research shows combining the drugs memantine and donepezil may improve memory in patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers studied more than 300 patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Participants were already taking the drug donepezil when the study began. Donepezil works by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger in the brain that is important for memory and other thinking skills.For the study, patients received either memantine or a placebo. Memantine targets glutamate, a brain chemical that is associated with nerve cell death when produced in high quantities. The Food and Drug Administration approved memantine in October 2003.
Researchers found patients who took memantine and donepezil experienced significant improvement in cognition, memory, and overall daily functioning compared to those in the placebo group. Researchers say they were pleasantly surprised to see that the two drugs worked well together. Memantine is significant, since it provides an entirely new medication option for the 2.5 million people currently suffering at the advanced stage of Alzheimer's.
Prior to the FDA's approval of memantine, only acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, like donepezil, were approved for treating Alzheimer's patients. Researchers say the study is significant because this is the first time combining two Alzheimer's drugs has shown positive results.
Researchers conclude saying , " To find a new medication that can provide substantial benefit to patients at this stage of the disease, either alone or in combination with another Alzheimer's drug, is certainly good news ... While memantine is not a cure for Alzheimer's, if it helps to keep a person with Alzheimer's at home for six months or one year longer, then it is a victory."