More than 400,000 Alzheimer’s patients could benefit from a new drug to relieve distressing symptoms such as hallucinations.
Psychosis is common in patients with the disease, and also occurs in those with other forms of dementia. Many patients are currently given antipsychotics – controversial drugs dubbed the chemical cosh – which sedate them without easing their symptoms. As well as hastening memory loss, they greatly increase the risk of falls, strokes and premature death.
Scientists have now developed pimavanserin to treat the symptoms of psychosis, which include delusions and hallucinations. The researchers, from Exeter University, say it could be offered to half the 850,000 dementia patients in the UK. An early trial with 181 participants, published in Lancet Neurology, found it significantly reduced symptoms without causing harm.
Professor Clive Ballard, who led the research, said: ‘It’s particularly encouraging that most benefit was seen in those with the most severe psychotic symptoms.’ The treatment, which blocks a specific nerve ending in the brain responsible for the symptoms, will now be the subject of a larger study in the US.