Drugs that slow down Alzheimer’s underused

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HUNDREDS of thousands more people in the UK with Alzheimer’s disease could benefit from two key drugs, research suggests.

Experts found memantine and donepezil could help ease symptoms in the later stages of the disease, not just earlier on.

Donepezil, which is the most commonly used dementia drug in the UK, is approved for use on the NHS for mild to moderate stages of the disease. It works by increasing the amount of a neurotransmitter involved in memory and attention in the brain.

Professor Clive Ballard, director of research for the Alzheimer’s Society, which co-funded the new study, said around 50,000 people in the UK are thought to be on the drugs – just 10 per cent of all people with Alzheimer’s.

He said: “This research – if acted upon – has the potential to change the lives of up to 450,000 more people today and many more in the future.

“It also adds vital weight to the argument that a diagnosis of dementia is essential. Only then can people be given the opportunity to try these drugs, which could bring real benefits into the later stages of the disease.”

Only about 41 per cent of people with dementia currently have a diagnosis.

The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, involved 295 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s who had been taking donepezil for at least three months, and were about to move towards the severe stage of the disease.

Professor Robert Howard, lead author on the study, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said donepezil in particular made a real difference.

“When we talk about clinically significant benefits, we are talking about benefits that patients, their caregivers and doctors would actually notice,” he said. With donepezil, “it’s as if the clock has been turned back four months” in terms of cognitive symptoms, and three months in terms of functioning.”