Old age could become more bearable for millions of people if an existing antidepressant is found to fulfil its potential in the battle against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Scientists at Cambridge University believe that trazodone could slow down the progression of the neurodegenerative conditions.
The fact that the medicine is already licensed in the UK and is taken by those suffering from depression means that it could reach Alzheimer’s patients quicker than other drugs in development. But before that can happen, it needs to be proven effective in treating the condition.
Trials of the drug are due to begin later this year and a definitive answer about its ability to protect against the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is expected within five years. If it is positive, it could then become widely available on the NHS.
Professor Giovanna Mallucci, lead scientist of the UK Dementia Research Institute, addressed a conference in London about trazodone’s potential. She said it could work by accelerating the rate of production of proteins that protect against brain cell death.
She added: “Delaying this process will improve old age for millions, which I would consider an amazingly good result in the treatment of dementia. If we could keep people at their early cognitive presentation or even just slow down the rate at which they decline, I think it would really transform lives.”
Brain cell degeneration occurs when cells become stressed, which leads to them not producing enough protein. This in turn prevents them from working properly and the eventual death of the cell. It is a common factor in a number of conditions, from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to CJD.
There is currently no cure for dementia and scientists are not suggesting that trazodone would be one either. It would not prevent the onset of the condition, but could be used to slow its progression. This could greatly improve the quality of life for people diagnosed with dementia and allow them to live independently for longer.
Professor Mallucci said she would be surprised if the drug had no effect on dementia patients, but only trials will prove this conclusively. With 225,000 people set to develop dementia this year, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, the race is on to find ways to combat the condition.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, representing between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of diagnoses. It particularly affects those aged 65 and older, slowly destroying memory and making it difficult to carry out everyday tasks.
Early diagnosis is important, so that as much memory can be preserved as possible. If you have elderly relatives, then it’s worth keeping an eye out for common symptoms. These include problems remembering newly learned information and disorientation.
Raising concerns with medical professionals will mean they can conduct tests to get a definitive diagnosis. There’s lots of support available for both those with dementia and people who care for people with the condition. Alzheimer’s progresses over time, moving from the early stages when they can function relatively independently until they rely on others for nearly everything.