A Dutch patient diagnosed with akinetic mutism 8 years ago miraculously recovered, but only for a short time, after taking a sleeping pill – Ambien. Richard, 39, has not spoken, eaten, or walked since 2012 when he drowned with a piece of meat and suffered traumatic brain damage due to lack of oxygen. Doctors in the Netherlands gave him Ambien as a last resort, with the family’s consent.
In 20 minutes, he assisted, ordered food, and called his father.
For the past 8 years, Richard has been able to answer questions or commands with eye gestures, but he could not move and had to be fed through a tube.
Doctors said they decided to give him zolpidem – sold in the UK as Stilnoct and in the US as Ambien – as a last resort, following reports of sleeping pills that temporarily cure paralysis patients in studies around the world. In 20 minutes, Richard managed to walk with the help of his caregivers and call his father, who had not heard his son’s voice for almost a decade.
Writing in a medical journal, doctors said that taking Ambien once a day could keep Richard alert for two hours. But the drug would start to lose its effect if taken for five days because his body would become tolerant of him.
Akinetic mutism does not physically paralyze people but slows down their mental function so much that the brain struggles to send signals to the body to move, talk, or eat. Researchers believe that Ambien is helping to reopen these pathways.
Doctors said: “On average, it would take two to three weeks without medication to notice the effects of a single dose of zolpidem again. As a result, the administration has been limited to special occasions. ”
Scans show that after his 2012 accident, parts of Richard’s brain stop due to sensory overload whenever he tries to perform a basic task.
Previous studies have shown that about one in 20 patients with Ambien’s impaired consciousness sees their condition improve, at least temporarily. Dutch researchers are looking for a long-term solution.
What Akinetic Mutism Is
Akinetic mutism has been observed in people who have suffered from brain trauma, as well as in patients with stroke, cancer, and tumors.
Akinetic mutism is a medical term that describes patients who do not move or speak. It is the result of severe frontal lobe injury in which inhibitory control causes increased passivity and progressive decrease in speech and movement. An example of the disease that causes this sign is olfactory meningioma, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare degenerative brain disease, and acute cases of lethargic encephalitis. It can occur in strokes that affect the anterior cerebral territories bilaterally. Another cause of akinesia and mutism is cingulate gyrus ablation. The destruction of this gyrus has been used in the treatment of psychosis. These lesions cause akinesia, mutism, apathy, and indifference to painful stimuli.