Do Alzheimer’s drugs really help Alzheimer’s symptoms?

November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. Millions of families across our nation struggle with the emotional and financial toll that Alzheimer’s can take. Though there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, there are medications that doctors do prescribe to help curb symptoms. Do they really help? Are they worth the financial cost? This is a difficult question to answer, especially when there are still so many uncertainties when it comes to dementia. To learn how we help families in South Florida with care management and senior home care in the Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Palm Beach areas, visit us at Advocare.

Do Alzheimer’s drugs really help Alzheimer’s symptoms?

Do Alzheimer’s drugs really help Alzheimer’s symptoms? The daughter of a patient recently asked me a question about Alzheimer’s drugs that families often bring up. She wondered if the medications were still helping her father, who had been taking them for years and was now entering late-stage disease. “I feel guilty to even ask this,” she told me. “But all the many drugs he takes are so expensive, and I’m not sure these dementia drugs are helping. How can I tell if he still really needs them?” When a reader posed a [similar question] ( last summer, many fellow caregivers quickly chimed in with their stories. It’s so common for interest in modern medications to swirl together with doubts about effectiveness, worries about money, and maybe even guilt for even asking the questions. This can be especially true when a dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease has gotten pretty advanced.

I was glad this daughter brought her concern to my attention. The four points below are what we discussed. It’s what I encourage all families in my practice to consider before continuing cholinesterase inhibitors, such as donepezil (Aricept) and memantine (Namenda):

Four things to consider before continuing Alzheimer’s medications

1. These drugs have been shown to slow down the decline caused by dementias such as Alzheimer’s, but only by a little bit. In other words, we think these drugs work, but it’s unrealistic to expect that they will make a huge difference. In studies of people with dementia (which are mostly funded by the drug makers), at the end of the study period, those who take the drugs tend to have lost a little less mental function than those who didn’t take them.

2. Experts continue to debate whether the improvements seen in research studies are really meaningful. Even if researchers find that taking these drugs means better scores on a special mental quiz, that doesn’t necessarily turn into noticeably better quality of life for people with dementia or their caregivers. This could be because the impact of the drugs tends to be small. If you have a loved one taking these medicines, and you’ve found yourself wondering if they’re really helping, you’re not alone. Often families feel that these medicines don’t have much effect, an intuition confirmed by a 2008 evidence review, which described the benefit of these drugs as “marginal”.

3. We don’t know much about how well these drugs work when used for years and years, or in people with very advanced dementia. This is because most of the research is done on people with mild to moderate dementia, and studies almost never last for more than a year. So far, there’s no reason to think that these drugs might work better in advanced dementia, and some experts think they’re less useful.

4. These drugs do seem to help certain people with behavior and function. Although the consensus is that overall these drugs have only a small effect, in some people they seem to make more of a difference. Unfortunately, researchers haven’t yet figured out how we can identify those people ahead of time. For now, the only way to know whether the drugs will help your loved one is to give them a try: You might be one of the lucky ones that then notices an improvement in sleeping or less irritability.

Continue reading from…

Comments are closed.