Alzeihmer's drugs can do more harm than good — study

By Jasminee Sahoye


A Canadian medical research team has found that drugs prescribed to treat Alzheimer’s disease don’t help patients with mild cognitive impairment and they can do more harm than good.

Cognitive means the mental process of knowing, including aspects as awareness, perception, reasoning and judgement.

It was also discovered that every year, three to 17 per cent of people with mild cognitive impairment deteriorate to dementia.

The research indicates that people with mild cognitive impairment, show symptoms of memory problems that are not severe enough to be considered dementia or to interfere with day-to-day functioning.

Dr. Sharon Straus of the department of geriatric medicine at the University of Toronto and her team reviewed clinical trials and reports on the effects of four cognitive enhancers.

“Cognitive enhancers did not improve cognition or function among patients with mild cognitive impairment and were associated with a greater risk of gastrointestinal harms,” the reviewers concluded in a recent issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“Our findings do not support the use of cognitive enhancers for mild cognitive impairment.”

The medications act on different neurotransmitters in the brain, such as acetylcholine. The drugs are Donepezil (Aricept); Rivastigmine (Exelon), Galantamine (Reminyl) and Memantine (Ebixa).

Straus adds that patients and their families are increasingly requesting the medications.  She says Health Canada has not yet approved some of the off-label prescriptions that are used for mild cognitive impairment.

The trials were done between 1999 and 2007 in North America, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, South America, Israel and Turkey. All the studies compared cognitive enhancers with placebos. The average age of the patients ranged from 66 to 73.

The statistical methods used for analyzing the data showed patients taking the medications experienced more nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and headaches than those taking placebos.

In 2004, there were 900,000 prescriptions filled for the medications, said study co-author Andrea Tricco at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

The authors suggested longer-term trials to ensure accuracy of results beyond 84 weeks of followup.

A psychiatrist in the Behavioural Neurology Memory Disorders Clinic at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto is recommend the following strategies to deal with memory loss.  They include associating names with a name you already know; remembering images of scenes and keeping an appointment book in the same place at all times or using reminders on digital devices.