Scientists have been examining a drug called Zolpidem and found that it has a “dramatic effect” on a wide variety of conditions.
Experts from the University of Michigan looked at how the drug affected over 20 neurological disorders, including comas, people in vegetative states, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
They found that most patients experienced improvements when taking Zolpidem, with the effects lasting up to four hours in some cases
Progress was reported for coma recovery, Parkinson’s disease, dystonia and on other scales where motor and verbal abilities were measured.
The study, published in JAMA Neurology, also says that some patients improved to a “minimally conscious” state where they attempted to speak to those around them.
Co-author Mark Peterson said: “This is one of those strange paradoxes where the effects of an insomnia drug seem to have the opposite effect for patients who have paralysis or neurologic conditions.”
However, the improvements were only recognised in a small fraction of the patients involved – up to seven per cent of people with disorders of consciousness and 24 per cent for those with movement disorders.
Nonetheless, the scientists behind the study say that it is something to build on.
Dr Martin Bomalaski said: “I saw how these conditions affected their function and quality of life.
“To see that something as simple as an average dose of a sleeping medicine had, in 15 minutes, woken someone up from a vegetative state seemed extraordinary, and I wanted to pursue it further.
“We still need to learn much more in order to answer the question about whether we should be using this in our clinical practice.”
Mr Peterson stated: “This kind of report brings up more questions than answers, although something like this is really foundational to guide a larger clinical trial.”