While it’s well known that the drugs available now for people with Alzheimer’s disease, namely donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), galantamine (Razadyne), and memantine (Namenda), don’t cure the disease, they do help slow the decline and even put off behavioral changes, for many people. Now, a study published on medpagetoday.com titled, “ICAD: Persistent Use of Antidementia Drugs May Prolong Alzheimer’s Disease Survival,” is showing that people who have persistently taken these drugs are living up to three years longer than those who were not.
The study didn’t have information on whether the drugs increased the time a person could have with home care, thus decreasing the time a person needs to be in a nursing home for care, but that would be very hard to measure, because so much depends on the type of help available for the person in his home.
If you have an elder who is dependent on her spouse for care, the person with Alzheimer’s may not be able to stay in the home as long as someone who had several people to help with the care. Also, in-home custodial care (the non-medical care people get from in-home care services) is not covered by Medicare, so even people who hire help for part of a day or night often run out of funds and have to go the nursing home route earlier rather than later. We can hope for change in the laws that cover this care, but we aren’t there yet.
No one particular drug is mentioned in the study as most helpful, and many people were put on combinations of drugs, which is common in Alzheimer’s treatment. Alzheimer’s affects individuals very differently, and people decline at different rates. When even educational levels and physical activity from the past can make a difference as to when the disease becomes noticeable, you are dealing with something that is hard to peg.
The good news there is that many avenues are being explored by pharmaceutical companies and research organizations. However, not having a single “hook,” so to speak, makes some of these observational studies hard to conduct.
However, according to the medpagetoday.com article, “The finding emerged from an observational study of 641 dementia patients treated at the Alzheimer Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.”
The study notes that persistency in taking the drugs was key, as those who took the drugs the longest, lived the longest. The quality of life of the person with Alzheimer’s disease is another subjective factor and quality of life counts for much. Many of us would choose quality of life over quantity.
However, since this study suggests a longer life, the information to me implies that there is more quality early on, from the positive effects of the drugs, and also, since it suggests a longer life, that would make me think that the body is “remembering,” for a longer time, how to do the functions it needs to do to stay alive.
We can hope that this means a longer time with better quality for the person with Alzheimer’s disease, and the family. Maybe the person with Alzheimer’s will even live to see another treatment that will help reverse some of the destruction brought on by the disease. Am I too hopeful? Perhaps. But often that’s all we have to hang on to. So, I’ll take it for now.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a newspaper columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack is also a contributor to several books on caregiving and dementia, and is passionate about preserving the dignity of elders. Her website is www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook at Minding Our Elders.