A new drug may calm agitation in Alzheimer’s patients, according to promising results in an early clinical trial. The drug, Nuedexta, combines a cough suppressant with a heart medication.
The trial included 220 Alzheimer’s patients. Nuedexta generally eased agitation symptoms over 10 weeks, without worsening patients’ memory or judgment.
The patients, all with Alzheimer’s-related agitation, participated in a study at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Nevada. Researchers assigned 93 of the 220 patients initially to take Nuedexta, with the rest on placebo pills. After five weeks, 59 of the patients who showed no response to the placebos were switched to Nuedexta.
On average, patients on the drug showed a three-point decline on a standard scale used to measure agitation symptoms. Dr. Sam Gandy, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital, called this decline a “significant change,” saying “The effects would be noticeable and provide meaningful relief.”
Researchers involved with the study also note that a much larger trial is needed before the public can trust the benefits of the drug, however. And the medication did have side effects. Nearly nine percent of patients on the drug fell, and five percent developed urinary tract infections.
Despite the drug’s side effects, Nuedexta, made by Avanir Pharmaceuticals, has potential to combat Alzheimer’s agitation effectively. Avanir believes that Nuedexta works by acting on brain avenues that coordinate “emotional expression”.
Agitation symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s can range from restlessness to aggressive behavior. Doctors may try to manage these symptoms without medication, or may use antipsychotics, which carry serious side effects. The new drug is a potentially safer alternative.
Nuedexta combines the cough suppressant dextromethorphan and the drug quinidine, used to treat abnormal heart rhythms. Right now Nuedexta is on the market to treat a rare neurological condition called psuedobulbar affect, which causes outbursts of laughing or crying, often in patients with brain damage, Parkinson’s disease or similar conditions.
Experts stress that although Nuedexta shows promise, agitation in Alzheimer’s patients should be treated without drugs first, if possible. Reassurance, understanding and social interaction are all key.