Rationale: Nighttime agitation occurs frequently in patients with dementia and represents the number one burden on caregivers today. Current treatment options are few and limited due to substantial side effects.
Objectives: The aim of the study was to measure the effect of the cannabinoid dronabinol on nocturnal motor activity.
Methods: In an open-label pilot study, six consecutive patients in the late stages of dementia and suffering from circadian and behavioral disturbances-five patients with Alzheimer's disease and one patient with vascular dementia-were treated with 2.5 mg dronabinol daily for 2 weeks. Motor activity was measured objectively using actigraphy.
Results: Compared to baseline, dronabinol led to a reduction in nocturnal motor activity (P=0.028). These findings were corroborated by improvements in Neuropsychiatric Inventory total score (P=0.027) as well as in subscores for agitation, aberrant motor, and nighttime behaviors (P<0.05). No side effects were observed.
Conclusions: The study suggests that dronabinol was able to reduce nocturnal motor activity and agitation in severely demented patients. Thus, it appears that dronabinol may be a safe new treatment option for behavioral and circadian disturbances in dementia.