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Alzheimer Drugs Don't Work

About 4.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and many patients and their families see the five drugs now available to treat it as their only defense against its relentless destruction of the mind. Patients usually take one drug. Each costs about $120 a month. They are meant to aid thinking and memory, though they do not change the underlying course of the illness. A million Americans take them, at an overall cost of $1.2 billion a year.

Four drugs - Aricept, Exelon, Reminyl and Tacrine - are approved to treat the symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer's. All raise levels of acetylcholine, a chemical that transmits nerve signals in the brain. A fifth drug, Namenda, which works on a different neurotransmitter, was approved last year for moderate to severe cases. Clearly, the drugs can alter brain chemistry, and some studies show statistically significant improvements on tests that measure thinking and memory. But while a few extra points on a mental exam, or other changes obvious to a specialist, may be enough to get a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration, they may not be enough to help a person with Alzheimer's dementia function in the real world.

The key to the treatment of Alzheimer's is to make sure you never get it. So just how do you prevent Alzheimer's?

New York Times April 7, 2004

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