Hundreds of thousands of dementia patients could be helped by drug breakthrough
Hundreds of thousands more dementia patients could be helped by two drugs that temporarily halt its symptoms, according to researchers.
In a trial, the treatments, which cost as little as 50p a day, gave sufferers in the later stages of the disease precious extra months to live independently and hold coherent conversations.
At present the two drugs – donepezil, more commonly known as Aricept, and memantine, or Exbixa – are given to only about 50,000 patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Donepezil, more commonly known as Aricept, is only given to around 50,000 patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's and stopped once the illness has progressed beyond a certain point
Once the illness has progressed beyond a certain point, prescriptions are usually stopped because the drugs are not thought to have any further benefit.
But based on the findings of a ground-breaking study carried out at King’s College London, experts believe they could help 450,000 advanced sufferers in the UK.
They also say the drugs could replace harmful anti-psychotic medication routinely used to sedate patients, which worsen symptoms and heighten the risk of strokes and death.
Researchers divided 295 patients with advanced Alzheimer’s disease into four groups. One group was given donepezil, the second memantine, the third took both drugs while the fourth was given placebos.
After a year, patients were assessed on their mental state and their ability to do daily tasks. Those on either of the two drugs got much higher scores than the other patients, and researchers estimated that the drugs had delayed symptoms by three or four months.
An elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease in a residential home specialising in the care of people with dementia
Patients taking both drugs together did not benefit more than those taking only one.
Professor Robert Howard, lead author of the study, which is published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, said: ‘For the first time we have robust and compelling evidence that treatment with these drugs can continue to help patients at the later, more severe stages of the disease.’
The ground-breaking study was carried out at King's College in London
He said that some patients who continued taking donepezil were able to function better for a year longer than those who stopped taking the drugs.
Professor Clive Ballard, of the Alzheimer’s Society, which co-funded the study, said: ‘This research, if acted upon, has the potential to change the lives of up to 450,000 more people today and many more in the future.
‘Sadly, what we do see is that when you stop these treatments, behavioural symptoms get worse.
what often happens is that other sedative drugs get prescribed to
manage the behavioural symptoms rather than the anti-dementia drugs
which may prevent or delay those symptoms from commencing.’
500,000 people in the UK are estimated to have Alzheimer’s, but 60 per
cent have not been properly diagnosed and are therefore not being given
vital drugs and care.
The researchers hope their findings will prompt the NHS watchdog NICE to draw up new guidelines telling doctors to give them to patients in the later stages of Alzheimer’s.
It currently costs about 50p a day to treat a patient with donepezil. Memantine costs 2.80 a day but the price is expected to drop by at least half over the next few months.