November 25, 2015
Raloxifene Doesn’t Benefit Memory for Women
With Alzheimer’s

Stanford, CA—Despite hopes that an estrogen-like drug, raloxifene, could benefit memory and thinking skills for women with dementia due to Alzheimer's disease, a recent study could not confirm that.

Study results, published recently in the journal Neurology, found that cognitive skills tests did not differ significantly between the placebo group and the group taking raloxifene. Stanford University researchers and colleagues also note the lack of significant difference in ability to perform daily activities and caregiver burden, as reported by family members.

“Drugs that interact with estrogen receptors have attracted a great deal of interest as a potential treatment for women with dementia due to Alzheimer's disease, but relatively small studies of estrogen have generally failed to confirm any benefit,” said lead author Victor Henderson, MD, MS, of Stanford University. “Prior to this study, raloxifene had not been evaluated as an Alzheimer treatment.”

In the small trial, 42 women—averaging 76 years old with mild-to-moderate dementia due to Alzheimer's disease—were separated into two groups and given raloxifene or a placebo pill for 12 months. Assessed on their memory and other mental functions at the start of the trial and then every 3 months, participants also were also evaluated on how well they could complete daily activities. In addition, their family members or caregivers were asked about their caregiver burden and stress at the start, middle, and end of the study.

Raloxifene, a selective estrogen receptor modulator, acts like estrogen in some parts of the body while performing as an estrogen blocker in the uterus and breasts, according to background information in the article. It often is used to prevent bone loss after menopause, and an earlier study in healthy women suggested that raloxifene might lower the risk of cognitive impairment or dementia, the researchers point out.

The recent study was not designed to detect small effects from raloxifene in the range of that provided by approved Alzheimer's drugs such as donepezil or memantine, Henderson said.

“We found that the drug did not have any significant effect on patients after one year,” he said. “If there are cognitive effects in this population, these effects are likely to be no more than small. These results may be valuable if future trials of raloxifene are considered.”

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