ADHD meds could treat ALZHEIMER: Scientists say there’s ‘good evidence’


Common drugs given to hyperactive children, like Ritalin, could treat Alzheimer's disease, research suggests

ADHD meds could treat ALZHEIMER symptoms: Pills like Ritalin boost a part of the brain that affects memory, learning and attention, a study finds

  • Significant improvements in 60-85 year olds with dementia on ADHD medication
  • Drugs boost the brain region that affects things like learning and memory
  • The British team looked at 19 studies over 40 years involving 2,000 patients

Conventional drugs given to hyperactive children could also treat Alzheimer’s, research suggests.

Dementia patients who received ADHD medications like Ritalin saw significant improvements in their cognition and brain function, according to one review.

The drugs are thought to go well together because they boost a brain region that affects things like attention, learning and memory.

British researchers looked at 19 studies going back 40 years and involving nearly 2,000 patients, most between the ages of 65 and 80.

Participants given noradrenergic drugs saw a “small but significant” improvement in overall cognition, including memory, verbal fluency and language.

The team also discovered that medications affected behavior and patients felt less apathy and lack of motivation.

The researchers from Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and University College London are now calling for further clinical studies on the effect of the drugs on Alzheimer’s. They say there is “good evidence” the drugs might help.

Common drugs given to hyperactive children, like Ritalin, could treat Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests

The team analyzed 19 studies published between 1980 and 2021 examining the effects of ADHD medications on people with Alzheimer’s and mild cognitive impairment.

The drugs — given to patients between two weeks and a year — Work through targeted work Norepinephrine, a chemical released by a network of specialized neurons in the body.

This network is critical to many cognitive processes, including attention, learning, memory, and the suppression of inappropriate behavior.

According to the study, the medication had no effect on attention. But there were small improvements in overall cognition and a “large positive effect” on apathy symptoms.

In response to the results, Dr. Mark Dallas, associate professor of cellular neuroscience at the University of Reading, said the reuse of existing drugs to treat dementia is an “exciting prospect”.

He said the review, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, is an “interesting teaser that drugs used to treat other conditions could join the fight against dementia.”

dr Andrew Reid, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham, said the study shows a “promising new avenue of research” as it “suggests a way to identify those at risk and treat them much earlier than is currently possible”.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting over half a million people in the UK and around 6 million in the US.

The disease causes brain cells to die and areas of the brain to change — including the noradrenergic system.

dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “There is currently a shortage of approved medicines to treat apathy in Alzheimer’s, a symptom associated with poorer quality of life, faster deterioration and increased stress for caregivers.

“This well-conducted meta-analysis highlights the potential of noradrenergic drugs to treat some aspects of Alzheimer’s disease, but the evidence in the studies reviewed here is of variable quality and it is difficult to directly compare the results of individual studies given the methods used are not consistent.

“We cannot yet be sure what effects these drugs might have on a person’s daily life, and we do not know if the benefits they offer would outweigh the risks.”

Like any medication, ADHD medication can have side effects. The most common are loss of appetite and trouble sleeping.

Less common side effects include nervousness, irritability, moodiness, headache, abdominal pain, rapid heart rate, and high blood pressure.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disease in which the buildup of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that transmit messages and causes the brain to shrink.

More than 5 million people have the disease in the US, where it is the sixth leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.


When brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.

These include memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.

The course of the disease is slow and insidious.

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some can live 10 to 15 years.


  • loss of short-term memory
  • disorientation
  • behavior changes
  • mood swings
  • Difficulty handling money or using the phone


  • Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
  • Anxious and frustrated with inability to understand the world, leading to aggressive behavior
  • Eventually lose the ability to walk
  • May have trouble eating
  • The majority will eventually require 24-hour care

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

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