New drug combo could lessen common agitation with dementia, Alzheimer's

One of the toughest parts of being a caregiver for someone with dementia or alzheimers is the patient's agitation and agression. But now doctors are testing a drug combination that's promising.

Laurie Gabello is unfortunately seeing her parents in a whole new light. Her father has alzheimer's disease and her mother has dementia.

"They were extremely active. They traveled a lot. They were extremely social," Laurie says. Now in full time care, both of Laurie's parents have frequent bouts of agitation.

"When people do come in to help him with his showers or his daily care and stuff, he does get extremely agitated. She gets very upset and very agitated, no matter what it is. What they're serving for dinner, the fact that they play the same music over and over," Laurie says.

"These are things that make caregiving so extremely difficult, when there is a violent or aggressive reaction by the patient," says Dr. Jeffery Cummings from the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

He and his fellow co-authors recruited 220 patients with alzheimer's, dementia and agitation. During a preliminary 10-week trial, participants were randomly assigned to receive either a combination of drugs or a placebo. And in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the drug combo substainally cut down on agitation.

"And we showed that the drug was safe and effective," Dr. Cummings says. He adds there also appeared to be benefit for the caregivers of these patients.

"There was a reduction in the stress experienced for caregivers of the patients who were treated with the dextromethorphan-quinidine combination," he explains.

Although caring for her parents is sometimes overwhelming, Laurie takes comfort in knowing they have lived full lives.

"They didn't not do anything they set their heart out to do, that was on their bucket list. They did all of it," she says.

The combination of these two medications is not yet available for patients. More studies are needed before the results can be presented to the FDA for approval, but doctors are working on it.