Researchers from the Karolinska Institute and Umea University in Sweden have found that a commonly recommended group of drugs for Alzheimer's disease reduces cognitive decline among patients with the condition and increases life expectancy by up to five years.
Alzheimer's disease affects millions of people around the world and over 6 million people in the US. As there is currently no cure for the condition, therapeutics are used to manage its symptoms and slow down its onset. One class of drugs used to manage its symptoms is known as cholinesterase inhibitors and includes drugs known as galantamine, donepezil, and rivastigmine.
These drugs work by blocking the normal breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain, a substance involved in cognitive functions, including memory, attention, and concentration. However, their effects have been debated until now due to few longitudinal clinical studies exploring their efficacy. The new research tries to address this gap.
For the study, the researchers examined data taken over five years from the Swedish Dementia Registry (SveDem). All in all, they analyzed records from 11,652 patients treated with cholinesterase inhibitors as well as a control group of 5,826 patients who were not treated with the drug.
In the end, they found that Alzheimer's patients treated with cholinesterase inhibitors had slower cognitive decline over five years and a 27% lower mortality rate. In particular, the researchers noted that galantamine had the most substantial effect on cognition. This, they said, maybe attributed to its effect on nicotine receptors and inhibiting enzyme acetylcholinesterase activity, which breaks down acetylcholine.
"Our results provide strong support for current recommendations to treat people with Alzheimer's disease with cholinesterase inhibitors, but also show that the therapeutic effect lasts for a long time," says Maria Eriksdotter, one of the study's authors.