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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Alzheimer's Agitation: Aricept No Help?

Study Shows Drug May Not Ease Agitation When Alzheimer's Disease Is Severe
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 3, 2007 -- The Alzheimer's drug Aricept may not soothe agitation in patients with severe Alzheimer's disease, a British study shows.

Agitation -- including anxiety, irritability, and physical restlessness -- is common in Alzheimer's patients, note the researchers, who included Robert Howard, MRCPsych, of Kings College London's Institute of Psychiatry.

Howard and colleagues studied 272 people with severe Alzheimer's disease, most of whom were elderly women (average age: 84) living in nursing homes.

The patients' agitation hadn't been calmed by four drug-free therapy sessions organized by Howard's team.

The researchers split the patients into two groups.

Every day for 12 weeks, one group took Aricept and the other group took pills containing no medicine (placebo). The patients and their caregivers didn't know who was taking Aricept.

The bottom line: Alzheimer's agitation didn't improve more in the Aricept group than in the placebo group.

The details: About 20% of the patients in each group had at least a 30% drop in their agitation level during the study. The rest didn't meet that benchmark.

Aricept doesn't claim to treat Alzheimer's agitation.

The FDA hasn't approved any drug for Alzheimer's agitation, though antipsychotic drugs are often used for that purpose, writes Kristine Yaffe, MD, of the University of California at San Francisco's psychiatry department, in a journal editorial.

The patients in Howard's study may have been the toughest cases to treat, since their agitation wasn't eased by drug-free therapy, Yaffe writes.

Howard's study and Yaffe's editorial appear in tomorrow's edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

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