Patients suffering from mild Alzheimer's could start receiving drugs

Added 07/10/2010

Couple walking along beach shore

For many years, the availability of drugs for patients with Alzheimer’s has been shrouded in controversy. Previously, only people that had moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s were allowed access to certain drugs. But that looks set to change, and soon mild sufferers could have access to the same drugs.

Over 400,000 people suffer from Alzheimer’s in the UK, and that figure could continue to rise as people start to live longer. Alzheimer’s tends to affect older people.

In 2005, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) ruled that drugs to treat Alzheimer’s should not be made available on the NHS. But only a year later, NICE granted the use of drugs for patients with moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

A new review proposes that the drugs should now also be given to patients with mild forms of Alzheimer’s. People that suffer from mild Alzheimer’s are categorised as having memory loss and being confused, but they’re not yet at the stage where they need a carer.

If people with mild Alzheimer’s are given access to the drugs, it could prolong the need for a carer, which could put less pressure on the NHS. The drugs in question are donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine, and there have also been reports that a fourth drug, ebixa, could be used to treat patients with a more advanced form of the disease.

Sir Andrew Dillon, chief executive of NICE, commented on the new review: ‘Clinical trials have continued to show the positive effect of these drugs. Our increased confidence in the benefits and costs associated with the use of the three drugs for treating mild and moderate stages of the disease has enabled us to make positive recommendations for their use in mild cases of the disease.’

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