Over-the-Counter Drugs May Home Promise for Alzheimer's

By Schieszer, John | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 13, 1994 | Go to article overview

Over-the-Counter Drugs May Home Promise for Alzheimer's


Schieszer, John, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Some medicines already on drugstore shelves may turn out to slow - or even prevent - the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers in St. Louis and elsewhere are studying nonsteriodal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and estrogen replacement therapy to see the effect they might have on Alzheimer's.

In one of the most promising studies so far, Dr. Louis Kirby of the Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Ariz., has found that one medication, indomethacin (Indocin), was able to improve mental capabilities in moderately impaired Alzheimer's disease patients after they took it for only six months.

"This has caused a stir in the industry. Everyone is convinced there is something to it," Kirby said.

In his study, Kirby gave the drug to elderly patients with Alzheimer's disease for six months. Also enrolled in the study were people of similar age and background with no history of Alzheimer's disease. Members of both groups received Indocin or a placebo (a pill with no active ingredient).

Kirby says he found that Indocin appeared to protect mild- to moderately-impaired Alzheimer's disease patients from mental decline.

During the study, those who received the placebo showed an 8.4 percent decline on a battery of cognitive measurements. But those receiving the drug showed an improvement of 1.3 percent on the same mental skills tests.

"It a small enough study that it is only suggestive. But it is the only thing that has shown promise at slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease," Kirby said.

Currently, the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating Alzheimer's disease is Cognex. Kirby says Cognex helps with performance but "it doesn't have an effect on the outcome on the course of the disease."

NSAIDs, a class of drugs that includes aspirin, are now being investigated at several medical centers across the country in Alzheimer's studies.

"It is too early to offer aspirin for Alzheimer's disease," said Kirby. He noted that the dose of aspirin would probably have to be pretty high, increasing the chance of side effects.

Millions of arthritis patients now take two and three NSAIDs a day to control their pain. Kirby says it's possible that some of these patients are incidentally preventing the memory loss that occurs with Alzheimer's.

"Studies have shown that the chances of getting severe memory problems with rheumatoid arthritis are very low," Kirby said. …

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