NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Vitamin E has already been credited with helping to keep skin looking youthful and preventing strokes. Now there’s evidence it could help slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, if true, the finding could be important for not just patients, but also for the family caregivers who provide more than 17 billion hours of unpaid care a year, putting untold financial and emotional stress on them.

Both Vitamin E and memantine, an FDA-approved drug, have been shown to slow the rate of progression of moderately severe Alzheimer’s.

But Veterans Aministration researchers across the country wanted to know if Vitamin E and memantine could also slow the rate of Alzheimer’s progression in patients with mild to moderate forms of the disease. Different patient groups received Vitamin E alone, memantine alone, a combination of the two or a placebo pill daily.

“Patients had to have a caregiver present who could manage the medications,” explained Dr. Maurice Dysken, a geriatric phsychiatrist at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System.

Caregivers also answered questionnaires about how ordinary activities were affected by the patients’ illness, including using the telelphine, shopping, cooking, dressing and bathing.

“Vitamin E slowed the rate of progression of Alzheimer’s disease on this measure of functional impairment and resulted in a delay of about six months over an average of two years,” Dysken said.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, also found that Vitamin E alone was better than memantine alone — and it was better even when the two were combined.

Initially, caregivers spent about six to seven hours a day caring for their patients, which increased during the study. But as the patients worsened, Vitamin E slowed the process, saving about two hours of caregiving time each day.

“For people who are in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, I think any delay in the rate of progression is meaningful and important,” Dysken said.

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