Drugs & Aging

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 245–274 | Cite as

Cognition Enhancers in Age-Related Cognitive Decline

Review Article Drug Therapy


A review of recently published studies on the effect of cognition enhancers in non-demented human study participants is presented. The heterogeneity of the therapeutic target, age-associated cognitive decline, can be improved by separately treating groups in whom age-extrinsic factors may underlie cognitive pathology. Standardisation of cognitive assessments is necessary, since many different tests are applied to answer the same question. Modelling cognitive dysfunction, either by pharmacological or nonpharmacological means, in humans is highly recommended since it allows hypotheses to be tested in a clearly operationalised way. Predictive validity of the currently applied models for the clinical situation remains a problem, however. The scopolamine (hyoscine) model has, to a reasonable extent, predictive validity for the cholinergic agents.

The results of 67 single-dose studies and 30 multiple-dose studies are summarised. All single-dose studies and 14 multiple-dose studies were carried out in young or elderly human volunteers. In 45 of 81 volunteer studies, models of cognitive dysfunction were employed. The scopolamine model was the most used (n = 21); the other studies induced cognitive dysfunction by means of benzodiazepines (8), hypoxia (7), alcohol (5) and sleep-deprivation (4). The remaining 16 multiple-dose studies were clinical trials of a duration varying between 2 weeks and 1 year (average duration was 14 weeks). In these trials, the effects of cognition enhancers were assessed in elderly people in whom impairment of memory, psychomotor performance or cognitive function was determined. These included age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) and age-associated cognitive decline (AACD).

There were many studies in which the cognition enhancing properties of substances in humans were reliably demonstrated. The cognition enhancing properties of substances that are widely used, such as caffeine, nicotine and vitamins, may already be active against AACD. New developments such as serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine3; 5-HT3) antagonists and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonists have provided marginal and disappointing results in AAMI. There is no cognition enhancer that has reliably and repeatedly been demonstrated to be efficacious for the treatment of AACD. However, this situation may change as the selectivity, specificity and adverse effect profiles of substances that are being developed for the treatment of AD may be expected to be improved in the future.


Nicotine Caffeine Adis International Limited Scopolamine Flumazenil 
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Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Maastricht Brain and Behaviour Institute, Department of Psychiatry and NeuropsychologyUniversity of LimburgMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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