Traumatic brain injury patients with moderate to severe memory loss improved their memories while taking the drug rivastigmine, according to a study published in the September 12, 2006, issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Researchers, who examined 134 men and women with traumatic brain injury at 19 centers across the United States, found attention and verbal memory test scores significantly improved among severely impaired patients who took rivastigmine for 12 weeks compared to placebo-treated patients. In one test, 30-percent of patients taking rivastigmine remembered five or more additional words, compared to 10-percent in the group receiving placebo. Rivastigmine is thought to enhance the function of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in memory and learning.
"With an estimated 1.5 million people suffering from traumatic brain injury each year in the United States, rivastigmine shows promising results for these patients with moderate to severe memory loss," said the study's lead author Jonathan M. Silver, MD, with the New York School of Medicine in New York.
While rivastigmine improved memory loss for patients with moderate to severe memory impairment, the study found the drug wasn't as helpful for patients with less severe memory loss.
"The beneficial effect of rivastigmine may not become apparent unless there is significant depletion of cholinergic activity in relevant brain regions causing a more profound impairment in memory or attention," said Silver. "This is an area where more research will be required to confirm these findings and to better define who may have the best response with rivastigmine."
The study found rivastigmine was safe and well-tolerated. The most common side effects were nausea, upper respiratory tract infection, headache, dizziness and vomiting, each of which was reported in at least 10% of patients in the rivastigmine group.
Over five million people in the United States are currently living with a disability related to traumatic brain injury.