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Children's Health

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Alzheimer's Drug May Help Down Syndrome Kids

Aricept May Improve Language Skills in Children With Down Syndrome

WebMD Health News

Oct. 1, 2004 -- A drug commonly used to treat Alzheimer's disease may boost communication skills of children with Down syndrome, a new study shows.

Researchers found children with the disorder who received the Alzheimer's drug Aricept experienced an improvement in language skills, such as being able to express themselves. If further studies confirm these results, researchers say the drug may potentially help children with Down syndrome learn better and communicate more effectively.

Down syndrome is the most common genetic cause of mental retardation worldwide, and it affects about one in every 800 births. People born with the condition suffer from varying degrees of mental retardation and are more prone to other diseases, such as heart disease. But recent medical advances have extended the expected life span of people with Down syndrome to over age 55.

"As people with Down syndrome continue to live longer, [drugs] that might increase their quality of life are of paramount importance," researcher Priya Kishnani, MD, a medical geneticist and co-director of the Down Syndrome Clinic at Duke University Medical Center, says in a news release. Yet, he adds that there remains no available drug treatment that can help patients with Down syndrome improve thinking and communication and live more independently. "It's an unmet need."

"A [drug] that could change the lives of people with Down syndrome early in childhood, making them more active learners, could really maximize their benefit and quality of life," says Kishnani.

Drug Targets Mind to Improve Language Skills

In the study, researchers examined the effects of Aricept in seven children with Down syndrome who ranged in age from 8 to 13. The results appear in the Oct. 15 issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

At the start of the study, the children's average score on a test of expressive language skills was equivalent to a child 4 years old. After four months of taking Aricept, researchers found the children showed improvements in their ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings and their score increased to that of a child 4.5 years old.

The study showed that some children experienced no change, and others demonstrated an eight-month gain in age score.

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