Among people with Alzheimer’s, about 30 to 40% experience delusions and hallucinations. This kind of psychosis presents a significant challenge for both people with dementia and their caregivers.
Hallucinations can lead to unsafe behavior, Zac Yanis, Jr., a neuropsychologist at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta and an adjunct professor at Mercer University told Considerable. For example, people might sit outside in the heat all day because of the “strangers” in the living room.
Think about being a caregiver to someone whose illness has caused them to lose touch with reality — who may constantly lash out at you due to delusions. Pair that with the fact that about 16 million people in the United States are informal family caregivers looking after someone with dementia, there is undoubtedly an unmet need in dementia psychosis treatment.
An auspicious treatment option
Up until this point, doctors didn’t have the right medications to effectively treat Alzheimer’s patients experiencing hallucinations. Now, a new drug is showing promise.
The drug, called pimavanserin, was initially approved to treat Parkinson’s psychosis. But now researchers believe it could have similar effects on dementia psychosis.
Pimavanserin’s initial approval was in 2016, and it came with warning of increased mortality risk in older adults with dementia-related psychosis. As of now, the drug is only approved for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease psychosis.
However, according to Healthline, a new study has just been conducted in which researchers tested pimavanserin on about 400 people with five types of dementia: Parkinson’s disease dementia, Alzheimer’s dementia, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies.
Half of the participants were given placebos, which helped the researchers come to the conclusion that pimavanserin treatment showed significant benefit. The group on the placebo treatment “were relapsing at a much higher rate than patients who had been randomized to pimavanserin,” said Jeffrey Cummings, MD, ScD, a leading Alzheimer’s researcher and founding director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Though the study has not yet been published in a scientific journal, the researchers plan to submit their findings to the FDA for approval in early 2020.
What this means for the future of Alzheimer’s
This is indeed exciting news as there has not been a new drug approved to treat Alzheimer’s since 2003. Moreover, this study indicates that pimavanserin would be effective in addressing all major types of dementia.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be devastating, and when hallucinations occur, caregivers can feel helpless. “[The drug’s approval] would be a very exciting thing,” Commings told Healthline. The ability to ameliorate those kinds of symptoms makes a huge difference for caregivers.”
Hope is on the horizon for families navigating an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Research is constantly being conducted and the puzzle of dementia is slowly coming together.