The Alzheimer’s drug donepezil (commercially known as Aricept ™) can help patients maintain their functioning in everyday activities such as shopping and fixing meals, according to a study published in the August 14, 2001 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The 54-week U.S. study of 415 people found that patients who took the drug maintained their level of functioning 72 percent longer than those who received a placebo. The study measured the amount of time before patients’ functioning declined, based on a clinical rating scale. Those taking donepezil declined, on average, five months later than the people taking the placebo.
“For Alzheimer’s patients and their families, five months can mean another birthday celebration or another holiday, and five months more that they can stay in their own homes,” said study author Richard Mohs, PhD, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Bronx VA Medical Center in Bronx, NY.
Mohs said most studies of donepezil have looked at its affects on cognition rather than level of functioning in daily activities. “This shows that in addition to helping people preserve their ability to learn new information and remember what they’ve learned, donepezil also helps preserve their ability to do the laundry and enjoy their hobbies — the things that help them stay independent and maintain their quality of life,” he said.
Another study in the same issue of Neurology showed that patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease taking placebo declined by about twice as much as those taking donepezil, based on a scale of cognitive ability, functioning in daily activities and other factors. The one-year study involved 286 people in Scandinavia and the Netherlands.
“These are the longest placebo-control studies on this topic,” said study author Bengt Winblad, MD, of the Karolinska Institute, Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Stockholm, Sweden. “These results show that donepezil is an effective treatment in the long-term and demonstrate the importance of continued donepezil treatment for optimal benefits in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.”
The American Academy of Neurology recently released practice guidelines for Alzheimer’s disease that recommend early recognition, diagnosis and care. Experts reviewed more than 1,000 studies to develop the guidelines.
“Early recognition and diagnosis can make it easier for the patient, family and doctor to deal with the disease,” said Mohs, who was a co-author of the guideline that addressed management of the disease. “While Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, medication can improve quality of life and cognitive functions, particularly among people who are mildly to moderately affected.”
Alzheimer’s patients lose brain cells that produce acetylcholine, a chemical that carries messages between brain nerve cells. Donepezil blocks the chemical breakdown of acetylcholine.