Drugs & Aging

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 357–375 | Cite as

Transdermal Treatment Options for Neurological Disorders

Impact on the Elderly
  • Lorenzo Priano
  • Maria Rosa Gasco
  • Alessandro Mauro
Leading Article


As people grow old, their need for medications increases dramatically because of the higher incidence of chronic pain, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular and neurological diseases in the elderly population. Furthermore, the elderly require special consideration with respect to drug delivery, drug interactions and adherence. In particular, patients with chronic neurological diseases often require multiple administration of drugs during the day to maintain constant plasma medication levels, which in turn increases the likelihood of poor adherence. Consequently, several attempts have been made to develop pharmacological preparations that can achieve a constant rate of drug delivery.

For example, transdermal lisuride and apomorphine have been shown to reduce motor fluctuations and duration of ‘off’ periods in advanced Parkinson’s disease, while rotigotine allows significant down-titration of levodopa without severe adverse effects. Thus, parkinsonian patients with long-term levodopa syndrome or motor disorders during sleep could benefit from use of transdermal lisuride and apomorphine. Moreover, transdermal dopaminergic drugs, particularly rotigotine, seem the ideal treatment for patients experiencing restless legs syndrome or periodic limb movement disorder during sleep, disorders that are quite common in elderly people or in association with neurodegenerative diseases.

Unlike dopaminergic drugs, transdermal treatments for the management of cognitive and behavioural dysfunction in patients with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease have inconsistent effects and no clearly established role. Nevertheless, because of their favourable pharmacological profile and bioavailability, the cholinesterase inhibitors tacrine and rivastigmine are expected to show at least the same benefits as oral formulations of these drugs, but with fewer severe adverse effects.

Transdermal delivery systems play an important role in the management of neuropathic pain. The transdermal lidocaine (lignocaine) patch is recommended as first-line therapy for the treatment of postherpetic neuralgia. Furthermore, in patients with severe persistent pain, transdermal delivery systems using the opioids fentanyl and buprenorphine are able to achieve satisfactory analgesia with good tolerability, comparable to the benefits seen with oral formulations.

Transdermal administration is the ideal therapeutic approach for chronic neurological disorders in elderly people because it provides sustained therapeutic plasma levels of drugs, is simple to use, and may reduce systemic adverse effects. Several transdermal delivery systems are currently under investigation for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and neuropathic pain. Although most transdermal delivery systems treatments cannot be considered as first-line therapy at present, some of them provide clear advantages compared with other routes of administration and may become the preferred treatment in selected patients. In general, however, most transdermal treatments still require long-term evaluation in large patient groups in order to optimise dosages and evaluate the actual incidence of local and systemic adverse effects.


Nicotine Levodopa Apomorphine Tacrine Systemic Adverse Effect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Dr Lorenzo Priano received a grant (3/2002) from Fondazione Italo Monzino Via Torquatto Tasso 14, Milano (Italy). The authors have no potential conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the contents of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lorenzo Priano
    • 1
  • Maria Rosa Gasco
    • 2
  • Alessandro Mauro
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Neurology and NeurorehabilitationIRCCS Istituto Auxologico ItalianoPiancavalloItaly
  2. 2.Nanovector srlTurinItaly
  3. 3.Department of NeurosciencesUniversity of TurinTurinItaly

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