A new study published in the British Medical journal Lancet today and widely quoted in the media over the past 24 hours suggests that some current Alzheimer's treatments may not be as effective as initial studies had indicated. However, proponents for the pharmaceutical under investigation by British researchers claim that additional studies are needed. Regardless of the impact of any one vector of treatment, early identification is critical.

Study: Drug doesn't hold off Alzheimer's
British researchers say that Aricept fails to prevent patients' need for nursing care.

By Denise Grady
The New York Times
June 25, 2004

The most widely prescribed drug for Alzheimer's disease, Aricept, does not delay the onset of disability or the need for a nursing home, British researchers are reporting today.

The researchers say that the drug has "disappointingly little overall benefit" and is not cost-effective, and that better treatments are needed.

Experts in the United States are already divided over the usefulness of Aricept and related drugs, and the study is unlikely to end the debate.

Most studies have shown that the drugs can produce small improvements in patients' scores on mental tests, but it is not clear whether those gains translate into anything helpful in real life. Even the drugs' staunchest advocates say that they offer only modest benefits at best, affording perhaps a short delay in a patient's decline. But when small changes in a patient's functioning occur, it may be hard to tell whether they are caused by the drug or to the ups and downs of the disease itself.

The new report, being published in today's edition of The Lancet, the British medical journal, is based on a study of 565 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease who were assigned at random to receive either Aricept or a placebo and were then followed for up to three years.

Although the patients taking the drug did have slightly higher scores on mental tests, after three years they did not differ from the placebo group in their rates of being put in a nursing home or becoming disabled.

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