Better Flying Through Chemistry


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Nov 26, 2001
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Drug Slows Memory Decline

Alzheimer's Medicine Improves Pilot Performance
By Jennifer Warner

July 8, 2002 -- A drug that helps preserve the memory of Alzheimer's patients may also boost the performance of airline pilots as they age. Researchers say the findings may provide clues about how the drug, Aricept, affects the brains of both healthy adults and those who suffer from age-related disorders such as Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

In the study, published in the July 9 issue of Neurology, pilots given the drug were able to retain specialized training skills on a flight simulator better than those who did not.

Researchers say pilots make good test subjects for analyzing the effects of Alzheimer's medications because piloting an aircraft requires a range of thought and coordination skills that are affected by aging. And the sophisticated flight stimulators used in training and testing pilots can detect subtle changes in these skills that may otherwise go unnoticed.

In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration requires that air transport pilots retire when they reach age 60, which has generated controversy about the performance of older pilots.

The study was designed to test the theory that age-related declines in brain function are at least partially caused by damage to a substance that relays messages between the brain cells responsible for memory and thought. Aricept works by blocking an enzyme that causes this loss of function to occur.

In the study, 18 pilots, average age 52, conducted seven, 75-minute practice flights on the stimulator during which they had to perform a complex series of tasks. After the initial session, half of the pilots took the drug for 30 days while the other half took a placebo.

The pilots then had to repeat the flight simulator test two more times to see if they had retained the earlier training. Overall, the performance of the Aricept group changed little. But the performance of the group that did not receive the drug declined.

Researchers say although the results are promising, they do not mean that healthy people should start taking the drug. In fact, side effects such as sleep disturbances have been seen in some people that take the drug.

But if further studies confirm these findings, the study authors say many legal, ethical, and regulatory issues are bound to arise.

Many older adults, who will never develop Alzheimer's disease, have thinking impairments that impact their day-to-day functioning, and the demand is increasing for treatments to address this, according to researcher Jerome Yesavage, MD, of Stanford University.

According to Yesavage, the gap between the haves and the have-nots could become even larger when the rich are enhanced not only through better education, but also through drugs. And, he writes, how should these treatments be regulated in settings beyond aviation or normal aging, such as chess matches or college test-taking?

© 2002 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Inasmuch as this drug affects neuorological capacities, I'd say it's doubtful that it would make the FAA "approved" list. On the other hand, it says it improves sim performance. Food for thought (sorry) for interview sim rides and initial and upgrade sim training?

Would you have to take a pi$$ test at your interview or during training to see if your performance was chemically enhanced? Shades of the Olympics!!