Disheartening news about currently available Alzheimer's drugs was published on Reuters.com this week. In an article titled "US review finds no good drugs for dementia," Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor, reported on the findings of a review conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians. They looked at the results of 96 studies of five different drugs that have been approved for treating dementia.
The results of the studies seemed to show that none of the drugs work well for people in general. They did say that some individual patients may see benefits, however. And this is the quandary family members find themselves in.
When someone has dementia, it's often left up to the family, and those close to the person, to decide if a drug is working. We watch for behavior changes and we look for listed side effects. Is it helping? Are they a little better? Any worse?
One problem, of course, is that families can be prone to a placebo effect, where we want it to work so badly that we "see" improvement even if it isn't there. Another problem is that, with nearly all dementias, some days are better (or worse) than others.
So, you take a person with dementia, and give them a new drug. You give it some time and try to figure out if it's helping. "Maybe a little," you think. A couple of days later, you think, "maybe not."
Should you try something else? The doctor has another option. You agree to have your loved one try that. That seems to work better for awhile, but then you aren't sure. Is the medication working less, or is the dementia just getting worse? If you stop, what will happen? Should you try a third kind or a combination of drugs? How much can you expect?
The reviewers did find that "The drugs can sometimes delay progression of the symptoms of dementia, which can take many different forms."
This finding seems to be consistent with what I've read about most of the drugs in use for dementia, and I think that is an important finding. My take, after reading the article, is that the reviewers aren't seeing the numbers they'd like to see, when it comes to how many people are helped. They aren't seeing reliability. But they do see that some can be helped.
The panel recommended that, "Rather than trying to find the most effective drug, doctors should focus on tolerability, adverse effects, ease of use and cost..."
The conclusion of the study was that more research is needed as to the effectiveness of current dementia drugs. They found that the "...effects on quality of life is mixed and the clinical significance of many of the findings is questionable."
Personally, I've heard many individuals say that certain drugs have helped their loved ones enormously, and these have been used for a significant amount of time. If there is even a chance that one of the medications would help someone - even if it's random - why not try it, unless there is a larger risk involved than there would be in not trying the drug.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's. Many researchers are trying vastly different approaches to finding a cure, or at least something to put off the most devastating effects of the disease for a longer amount of time. That is encouraging.
But until the time comes when there's something better to try, I think most people will try anything that may possibly help. And that will mean they will be trying the very drugs mentioned in the review. Each of these families will be hoping beyond hope that their loved one is one of the people that is helped. Why wouldn't they? Hope may be all we have, but we must hang on to something.
Published On: March 05, 2008