Sleep disorder drug boosts patients’ memory – CPFT study

New research jointly sponsored by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) and the University of Cambridge has found that a drug used to treat excessive daytime sleepiness - narcolepsy - can improve memory in patients recovering from depression.

Sleep disorder drug boosts patients’ memory – CPFT study
09 February 2017

Modafinil - a drug used to treat narcolepsy - can improve memory in patients recovering from depression, a joint study from CPFT and the University of Cambridge has found. 

Dr Muzaffer Kaser, CPFT psychiatrist and lead author on the study, investigated the potential of modafinil to help people recovering from depression improve cognitive functions such as concentration, memory and attention. Almost all patients with depression experience problems in these areas.

Dr Kaser said: “These results are very promising. GPs or psychiatrists often hear complaints of concentration or memory difficulties from patients with depression, but we are not good enough at treating these symptoms. Our study shows that modafinil may be a feasible option to tackle persistent cognitive problems in depression.” 

Currently available treatments do not specifically address cognitive deficits problems in depression, Dr Kaser added.

Sixty patients aged between 18 and 65 years with depression completed memory, attention, and planning tasks after receiving modafinil or a placebo. The results showed that patients given a dose of modafinil experienced improvements in their memory, compared to those patients taking the placebo.

The study demonstrated that patients receiving modafinil made fewer errors than those who received a placebo. 

For example, in one of the tasks – in which patients were asked to remember the pattern of a number of boxes - patients receiving modafinil made fewer mistakes that those receiving the placebo.

Modafinil, traditionally used to treat narcolepsy, has already been shown in other studies to have beneficial effects on cognitive function in other psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

It is hoped that further research will consider how modafinil will help people suffering with depression who have “episodic” and “working” memory issues.

Episodic memory is used when we are remembering where we left our keys in the house or where we parked our car. Working memory, on the other hand, is the ability we use when, for example, we are rehearsing a new telephone number while we are trying to find a pen and paper to write it down.

More research is required to determine whether the same benefits would be seen over the long-term, Dr Kaser said.

The study was jointly sponsored by University of Cambridge and the CPFT and the findings were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging. It was funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC)  and the Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute.

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