Alzheimer drugs still not working

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The modest benefits received from the drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease are causing doctors to second-guess prescribing them to patients to treat memory and cognitive problems. While advocates of the drug remain hopeful, others have expressed their doubts on the effectiveness of these drugs.

Conflicting opinions from the experts ranged from prescribing the patients the drugs for six to eight weeks, then quit if there was no sign of improvement, to prescribing the drugs for a six-month period.

Startling statistics on Alzheimer’s disease:

  • 4.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease
  • Most family members feel that drugs are the only answer to slowing down the disease
  • Alzheimer’s patients usually take one drug
  • Estimated cost of each drug: $120 a month
  • The overall costs of Americans taking the drugs are $1.2 billion a year

Researchers are continuing to search for new treatments, however there doesn’t appear to be a cure in the near future. Even though some research has shown improvements after taking the drug, the changes aren’t significant enough for the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval.

Presently the four drugs being used to treat Alzheimer’s disease include Aricept, Exelon, Reminyl and Tacrine. Each of these drugs was found to raise levels of acetylcholine, a chemical that sends nerve signals to the brain.

A fifth drug, Namenda, targets a different neurotransmitter and was approved for moderate to severe cases.

Several doctors expressed their concerns that hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted on these drugs. Families continue to rely on medications for their family members, out of fear that if they stop the medication, their family member might experience a sharp decline in the disease.

New York Times April 7, 2004


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