Eventually, memory and brain functions begin to slip to the point of Alzheimer's disease, says Ronald Petersen, MD, PhD. Moreover, vitamin E has no beneficial effect. Petersen led a multicenter study to determine if Aricept or high-dose vitamin E could prevent mild cognitive impairment, a condition considered to be a precursor to Alzheimer's disease.
The Alzheimer's Association estimates that 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative brain disease that slowly wipes out memory and eventually leads to dementia. The risk increases after age 65 and numbers continue to go up each year as the population ages.
Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, PhD, the National Institute on Aging associate director for the Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging Program, says that researchers find themselves in a race against time with many predicting an "epidemic" of Alzheimer's disease by 2050 when an estimated 13.2 million older Americans are likely to have the Alzheimer's disease.
Excitement About Early Treatment
There has been a great deal of excitement about the potential for early treatment aimed at stopping -- or at least slowing -- the deadly progression of the disease. But, Petersen's results, announced Sunday at the 9th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders show that the "right" early treatment has not yet been found.
Researchers theorized that Aricept, one of a class of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors, would be a good choice since it helps increase levels of a brain chemical involved in memory. Likewise, researchers say that cell damage from oxidative stress, which is known to increase with age, may also contribute to Alzheimer's disease. This makes vitamin E, a potent antioxidant, another attractive candidate for early treatment.
The new study involved 769 volunteers with mild cognitive impairment, meaning that they had "memory problems but they were still able to think clearly and to perform tasks such as balancing a checkbook or preparing a meal," Petersen tells WebMD. In the three-year study, about a third of the participants each received 10 milligrams of Aricept daily, 2,000 IU of vitamin E daily, or a placebo. All volunteers were also given a daily multivitamin. The study also involved a family member or close friend to help assess the patient's condition including memory and functional ability, says Petersen.
The study was partially funded by Aricept's manufacturer, Pfizer. The company is also a WebMD sponsor.