Aricept and Alzheimer's: Drug Treatments
Aricept is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for Alzheimer’s disease but whether it’s a successful drug is the subject of much debate among the medical profession.
Although it’s not a cure, Aricept has been hailed as a miracle by some people who have seen a marked improvement in the symptoms of people with the disease. Others believe the drug has yet to prove its worth.
In the UK, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE), which produces guidelines for drug use, pronounced that Aricept was not a cost effective treatment for Alzheimer’s and should not be made available on the National Health Service. In other words, “if you want it you have to pay for it yourself”. This caused uproar among carers of people with Alzheimer’s and mental health charities which claimed the drug (costing the equivalent of a supermarket sandwich per day) was of huge benefit too many patients.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society (www.alzheimers.org.uk):NICE seems to have concluded that people with dementia are a group that it is not worth spending money on.”
In other countries such as America and in some parts of Europe - where health insurance determines what medication a person does or doesn’t receive - Aricept is still available.
The American Food and Drug Administration (www.FDA.gov) has licensed Aricept as a useful drug to help control symptoms and currently has no plans to withdraw it.
What is the Drug Aricept, and how does it treat Alzheimer’s?
Aricept is part of a group of drugs called acetycholinesterase inhibitors used to treat mild to moderate cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. There is no clinical evidence that it can actually alter the course of the disease or help repair damaged brain cells.
It is believed that the chemical acetylcholine, which transmits messages between brain cells in the area responsible for memory and acquiring new information, is reduced in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Acetycholinesterase inhibitors, such as Aricept, help prevent the breakdown of this important chemical, therefore helping to delay deterioration. In some cases it has delayed symptoms by around 12 months.
In one study where some people received Aricept and others received a placebo, those who took the drug were twice as likely to show some improvement in thinking and understanding. For many it delayed their decline for up to 12 months.
For some people the drug doesn’t have any effect at all or, if it does, their condition stays the same when it could have been expected to deteriorate.
And it doesn’t have any effect in the later stages of Alzheimer’s because there are so few acetylcholine-producing cells left.
The drug is only available in prescription form and it’s up to a doctor to decide whether it’s suitable for the individual Alzheimer’s sufferer. And it does have side effects. Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, insomnia and tiredness have been reported although these do appear to go away as treatment progresses.