There is a glimmer of hope for improvement of people who are in a coma or vegetative state. Daily medication with a compound normally used to treat sufferers of Parkinsonâ€™s disease has been able to reach into the brains of severely injured people.
The flickering of consciousness was slight but verifiable and the first such evidence to be found. It is by no means a cure, but it is a lead to further possible breakthroughs. This is a significant newly reported finding that give doctors caring for vegetative patients a therapy known to work where no others have worked before.
Too many Americans, somewhere between fifty and one hundred thousand â€˜liveâ€™ states of unconsciousness and a confirmed 15,000 are officially diagnosed as vegetative. 6,00 of them are veterans who are severely brain-damaged for up to 12 years. The new evidence is published in the New England Journal of Medicine and gives doctors something to work with if not a definite prognosis for their patients. It is no more than a first step, but it is the culmination of long years of trying. The belief is that it will be as effective in fewer severely damaged patients than those involved in the study and that this is a genuinely hopeful development.
The Parkinsonâ€™s drugÂ that is giving rise to the hope is calledÂ â€˜amantadine hydrochlorideâ€™. This study is the first to confirm the benefits of the drug, although there have been mixed and uncertain reports of improvements in the past. The study used the drug in a blind test against a placebo. The medics administering the drugs had no ideas, which were placebo and, which were genuine. A team of experts used this study method in two large groups of patients, 184 all told. All of them had undergone a recent head trauma from involvement in an accident or blows to the skull.
The two groups were made up of vegetative and unresponsive patients with similar levels of consciousness. The study took place at the JFK-Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. Those subjects in group A had two doses of the drug each day in their food drips. Group B had a placebo. After 28 days the medics analyzed the patient’s responses on a standard scale for coordination and communication. Nearly all the patients showed some small improvements as was predicted because of the recent nature of the injuries. However, the group with the drugs showed statistically significant more improvement; 2 points on the responsiveness scale.
When the drug regime was stopped the placebo group caught up within two weeks. So the drug accelerated recovery, but it is not yet known if it changed the recovery profile permanently. There were no adverse side effects. Amantadine stimulates the production of â€˜dopamineâ€™, a chemical message carrier in that part of the brain that guide attention and executive functions.
[box]Having a recognized treatment may do wonders for the financing through health insurance for head trauma cases and give hope to all those care givers with a relative or friend lying at home or in care, in a vegetative state.[/box]