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Zolpidem Might Assist Patients With Akinetic Mutism

A new study finds that zolpidem, temporarily improved brain function in a patient suffering from akinetic mutism. The patient was able to communicate// , walk, and eat without assistance after receiving the drug for a bout of insomnia.

Zolpidem is a drug normally used to treat insomnia. Akinetic mutism is a condition in which the person is alert but cannot speak or move.

The study was published in the March 2007 issue of Annals of Neurology (http://www.interscience.wiley.com/ana), the official journal of the American Neurological Association.

Led by Christine Brefel-Courbon, M.D., of the University Hospital in Toulouse, France, researchers conducted a study of a 48 year-old woman who developed akinetic mutism due to oxygen deprivation to her brain following an attempted suicide by hanging. The patient was totally dependent, unable to speak or walk, and was using a feeding tube for nourishment, although she was able to understand single words.

Two years after the suicide attempt, she was given zolpidem for a bout of insomnia; 20 minutes later, she was able to communicate to her family, eat by herself, and move. These effects lasted for up to three hours. After systematically withdrawing all of her medications one by one, it was concluded that the positive effect was due to zolpidem. "This phenomenon was so reproducible that caregivers used to give her up to three tablets each day without sleepiness as 'side effect,'" the authors state.

The researchers systematically assessed the effect of zolpidem on motor and cognitive function and explored its effect on brain activity using positron emission tomography (PET) scans. They administered motor tests such as finger tapping and walking, and language tests such as spontaneous speech, word repetition, and object naming. They also conducted brain imaging studies to assess brain metabolism and cognitive activation using PET scans. All of these were conducted
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