New Drugs Under Study

There are many compounds under development for treating Alzheimer's disease and other memory disorders. Some of the experimental compounds work on the same principle as the medications available today. But several others work in completely different ways and hold the potential of actually preventing or reversing dementia and other memory disorders. I join other memory doctors and our patients in the hope (and expectation) that one or more of these new medications will yield greater benefits than the drugs we have today.

Keep in mind that drug development research focuses on two levels of effect: physiological and behavioral. Physiological effect is the capacity of a drug to alter some underlying biological marker or process. In other words, if a researcher hypothesizes that drug X will clear beta-amyloid from the brain of a patient with Alzheimer's disease, does the study in fact demonstrate that the drug has accomplished this? Behavioral effect refers to the capacity of the drug to make a significant difference in a relevant, measurable aspect of a person's functioning. In other words, does drug X actually improve memory function as reflected in a score on a memory test?

Even if drug X is physiologically effective, it may fail to produce a behavioral change. This type of result may lead the drug developer to question the assumption that the drug is targeting the relevant physiological disease factor. Alternatively, it may mean that behavioral efficacy might only be realized with higher doses or when therapeutic intervention occurs at an earlier stage of the disease.

Medications for Alzheimer's disease and other memory disorders can be divided into three broad categories, based on their effects and on the groups of people who stand to benefit from them. Many of the investigational drugs fit into more than one of these categories. Following is a rundown of current research.

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