November 09, 2012

Carrie Bebermeyer

A Spark for Enthusiasm? SLU Studies Ritalin for Alzheimer’s Disease Patients with Apathy, Fall Risk

SLU Researchers Receive $183,540 Grant to Conduct Research

ST. LOUIS – Saint Louis University researchers will study methylphenidate, more commonly known as Ritalin, as a therapy for apathy and fall risk in those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The only site for the study, SLU received a $183,540 grant from Noven Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to conduct the pilot investigation.

George Grossberg, M.D., director of geriatric psychiatry and SLUCare psychiatrist  

Apathy is a common problem for those with Alzheimer’s disease, affecting approximately 70 percent or more of patients. According to George Grossberg, M.D., director of geriatric psychiatry and principal investigator for the study at SLU School of Medicine, family members frequently notice apathy as indifference, social disengagement, passivity and loss of enthusiasm and interpersonal involvement.

“Apathy can be so frustrating for loved ones,” said Grossberg, who also is a SLUCare psychiatrist. “I hear it often from family members. It’s late afternoon and their parent or spouse has zero motivation to do anything. “There is, however, some evidence that stimulants like methylphenidate may be able to help.”

Co-study investigator at SLU, Ahmed Baig, M.D., says apathy also is connected to the risk of falling. “Apathy has a remarkable impact on a patient's functional impairment and may increase the risk of falls,” Baig said. “Falls are the leading cause of serious injury and death in the elderly.”

Baig says that although extensive research has been conducted to try to understand the factors involved, the number of falls and fall-related injuries in the elderly continue to rise, creating a need for additional treatment options to more effectively reduce fall risk.

Researchers will study the efficacy of methylphenidate because it is known to improve function in particular areas of the brain that are involved in the process of concentration, walking, balance and apathy. In previous studies, the use of low doses of this medication has been established as safe and well tolerated in the elderly. Investigators are looking specifically at those with Alzheimer's disease because they have a high risk of falls.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.

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