A new brain training program for people with dementia is giving doctors hope that they may be able to help patients with their cognitive decline improve their daily lives.
Dr. Joseph Gelles, a professor of neurology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and colleagues have been working to improve the brain function of people with Alzheimer’s disease for about two decades.
In addition to training people with advanced dementia, the program, called BRAIN, is also being used to improve brain function in people with a variety of other conditions, including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and stroke.
In their clinical trial, published in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers showed that the BRAIN program improved memory, cognitive function and brain activity in people who were on the drug metformin, which has been used to treat patients with advanced Alzheimer’s.
In the study, participants were randomly assigned to receive either a four-week, four-month, two-month or two-week course of metforman.
The four-year study showed that participants were able to perform at least 40 percent better than the control group on a test of executive functioning, the ability to think independently and to remember information.
The study also showed that metformans improved memory in people taking the drug at higher doses, which may help patients manage cognitive decline, said Gellers co-author Elizabeth Wittenberg, an assistant professor of medicine at the university.
Participants also saw their cognitive performance improve significantly when they took a four hour walk every day, the study showed.
The researchers are continuing to conduct more trials with a larger group of participants to determine whether the drug improves cognitive function in other patients.
The drug, also known as metformazone, is used to control the symptoms of the disease.
The drug is typically used for about half the U.S. population.
In clinical trials, the drug is administered by a person who takes the drug for a short period of time and then stops taking it.
The study found that participants in the drug trial who had previously taken metformen had significantly better cognitive function than those who had not.
The authors of the study are optimistic about the program’s potential to improve memory, but they caution that more research is needed.
“If we are able to prove that the drug can improve memory in patients, we may be in a position to design interventions to improve cognition in people,” Wittenings co-authors, Emily Gullo, a doctoral candidate in neuroscience and the study’s lead investigator, said in a statement.
“However, the current results do not demonstrate that metactonase alone can be used to enhance cognitive function.”