Hundreds of thousands of dementia patients could benefit from staying on certain drugs for longer, say researchers from King’s College London.
Two drugs, known as Aricept and Ebixa, are given to around 50,000 patients in the early and moderate stages of Alzheimer’s. Once the illness has progressed beyond a certain point the prescription is usually stopped, and the drugs are believed to have no further benefit.
The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease could be delayed with the use of cheap drugs
However, a ground-breaking study carried out at King’s College London and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that patients who stay on the drugs longer have their symptoms delayed by around four months.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, which is a group of symptoms associated with a decline in mental abilities, such as memory and reasoning. Around 500,000 people in the UK are estimated to have Alzheimer’s, but 60 per cent have not been properly diagnosed and are not given correct drugs and care.
In the study, researchers divided 295 patients with advanced Alzheimer’s disease into four groups. One group was given Aricept, the second group Exbixa, the third group were given both drugs and the fourth group was given a placebo.
After a year, the patients were assessed on their cognitive scores on factors like memory, and how well they coped with everyday tasks like dressing and eating.
The results showed that whilst the drugs were unable to halt the decline of patients they did slow it down. Those on either of the two drugs had much higher scores than the other patients, and researchers estimated that they delayed symptoms by three or four months.
Experts believe that these drugs could replace harmful anti-psychotic medication which is routinely used to sedate patients in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Now, the researchers hope that their findings will prompt the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to draw up new guidelines recommending the drugs for later stages of the disease. Aricept currently costs 50p per day per patient, and Ebixa £2.80 a day per patient.
Professor Robert Howard, lead author of the study, said: ‘For the first time we have robust and compelling evidence that treatment with these drugs can continue to help patients at the later, more severe stages of the disease.’
Since Alzheimer's disease is a chronic condition, it will not be covered by private medical insurance. However, to get cover for other illnesses compare health insurance quotes online now.
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