December 28, 2005
Testosterone replacement therapy may help improve the quality of life for elderly men with mild cases of Alzheimer's disease, according to a small study to appear in the Archives of Neurology, a medical journal published by the American Medical Association.
Medical researchers focused on the male sex hormone testosterone, levels of which progressively diminish as men grow older. "The gradual decline in testosterone levels is associated with decreased muscle mass and strength, osteoporosis, decreased libido, mood alterations, and changes in cognition, conditions that may be reversed with testosterone replacement," the study authors write. The age-related decline in testosterone is potentially relevant to Alzheimer's, they note, as previous studies have found significantly lower concentrations of the hormone in middle-aged and elderly men who have the mind-robbing disease.
Dr. Po H. Lu, Psy.D., from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues conducted a 24-week study to evaluate the effects of testosterone therapy on cognition, behavior, and quality of life in 16 elderly male patients with mild Alzheimer's disease, as well as 22 healthy older men who served as controls. The participants received packets of gel to apply on their skin that contained either testosterone or a placebo, although neither group knew which type of gel was being applied.
The men and/or those who cared for them were given at least two tests, at the start of the study and again at the end, to measure cognitive problems and to assess overall quality of life. "For the patients with Alzheimer's disease, the testosterone-treated group had significantly greater improvements in the scores on the caregiver version of the quality-of-life scale," the researchers report. The men with Alzheimer's who received the testosterone therapy tended to show improvements in terms of visual and spatial functions, although the benefits were not dramatic. Older men without Alzheimer's also reported slightly better day-to-day functioning and quality of life.
The researchers conclude that the study was small and results preliminary, and that further studies involving larger numbers of men will be required to determine if older men might benefit from testosterone therapy. They caution against giving testosterone treatments routinely to older men with or without Alzheimer's disease. Hormones are potent substances, with potentially serious side effects, and should not be over-used.
"For men with compromised quality of life and who suffer from low serum testosterone levels," however, the authors note, "testosterone therapy may be a reasonable consideration." Your doctor would need to measure levels of the hormone and determine if you might benefit from testosterone therapy.
For more on emerging treatments and research on Alzheimer's disease, visit www.ALZinfo.org.
Archives of Neurology, Volume 63, February 2006, pages 1-9. Online publication December 13, 2005.
Press release: American Medical Association, Chicago, Illinois.