Alzheimer’s: need a shot in the neck?

January 28, 2008 by  
Filed under ALZHEIMER'S

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The 81-year-old retired physician in Los Angeles didn’t know his doctor’s name, what state he lived in, or what date it was. (Personally, I never know the date, until I look it up. My grandma never knew the date either, because she couldn’t see the calendar). Then doctors injected etanercept, an anti-inflammatory drug approved to treat arthritis, into his neck. When they tested him again ten minutes later, he could tell them that he lived in California and what day it was. He seemed less frustrated and more calm. His score on the Alzheimer’s diagnostic test had improved from 7 out of 30 to 15 out of 30.

According to the Journal of Neuroinflammation, the doctors had previously injected the drug into 15 other patients, but had never tested its immediate effects. Said his wife, “He’s not the same person he was…. We almost fell off our chairs watching this.” Said his son, as quoted by BBC News, it was the “single most remarkable thing I’ve seen.”

Of course, in every drug test, there’s always a placebo effect. Even fake pills can improve a patient’s condition, simply because the patient thinks they’re real medicine. I think that a shot in my neck might temporarily improve my mental alertness. I know that a Vitamin B12 shot would always make my grandmother perk up all day. So we need to wait for more controlled studies before we get our hopes up.

In fact, since Alzheimer’s medications don’t claim to cure the disease, and manufacturers admit that results vary widely, dramatic changes are not common. This patient was moderately affected by Alzheimer’s. Donepezil didn’t help him, so they stopped giving it to him after four months. Memantine and rivastigmine also were “not tolerated by the patient.” He had been taking galantamine for six months (8 mg per day since 16 mg per day gave him side effects), but his wife and doctor couldn’t see that it helped him. He also took atorvastatin and low dose aspirin (which is believed to prevent stroke).

But it’s nice to think that Alzheimer’s disease could be relieved instantly, just by getting a shot. Personally, I think it’s great that the patient’s family members knew him well enough to see a difference. Many people don’t expect to see any improvement in Alzheimer’s patients, so they don’t.

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