What are cholinergic agents?
Cholinergic agents are medicines that affect the part of the brain involved in learning, short-term memory, arousal and reward. Some of the medicines used as cholinergic agents include memantine, rivastigmine and donepezil.
Who are cholinergic agents for?
The therapy can be used for autistic people and also people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies suggest the treatment might be more beneficial for older children and teenagers.
What are cholinergic agents used for?
This therapy aims to help autistic people feel less irritable. It also aims to improve the speech and behaviour of autistic people.
Where does cholinergic agent therapy come from?
In the past, cholinergic agents have been used in the treatment of conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia. More recently, the safety and effectiveness of these medicines have been examined for use with autistic people.
What is the idea behind cholinergic agent therapy for autistic children?
The brain is full of pathways and systems that control different functions, like how we learn and how memory works. Within the brain, cholinergic systems help control and regulate our thinking. These systems use a chemical called acetylcholine to transmit signals or impulses.
If areas of the brain are low in acetylcholine, cholinergic agents can be used to stimulate acetylcholine in the brain and improve how the brain works.
What does the use of cholinergic agents involve?
This therapy involves taking medicine or applying a patch to the skin. The specific medicine and dosage depend on each person’s symptoms.
Does cholinergic agent therapy help autistic children?
There’s little or no evidence of any benefit and some evidence of possible harm.
Who practises this method?
GPs, paediatricians or child psychiatrists can prescribe cholinergic agents and give you information about the potential benefits and risks of using them.
Where can you find a practitioner?
If you’re interested in cholinergic agents, see your GP, a paediatrician or a child psychiatrist.
You can find psychiatrists by going to Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is using cholinergic agents, you need to ensure that your child takes the medicine as prescribed. You also need to monitor the effects of the medicine.
The cost of this therapy varies depending on the brand of medicine used and its dose or strength. It also depends on whether the medicine is covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and whether you hold a concession card like a Health Care Card.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.