The drug which costs $27.22 for a 90 day supply is usually prescribed to patients with early stage dementia because doctors think that it may be ineffective for late stages.
But a new study suggests the opposite. Researchers believe that thousands of people could stay out of nursing homes for at least one more year, helping families save tens of thousands of dollars in the process.
The research team found that the common dementia drug donepezil keeps brain cells active and help dementia patients to be able to dress, eat and do household chores by themselves for at least 12 more months.
Scientists said that 26,000 patients could remain at home if their GPs would continue to prescribe the drug despite concerns that it may have little effect in late stages. Donepezil or Aricept costs just $27.22 for a 90 day supply in their generic form, while annual nursing home costs can range from $60,000 to $91,000.
Robert Howard, lead author of the study and Old Age Psychiatry expert at the UCL, said that while donepezil’s effects may seem modest, the benefits are crucial especially when the dementia struck-patient is your mother, wife or somebody you love.
“Our new results show that these benefits translate into a delay in becoming dependent on residential care, an event that many people dread,”
Prof. Howard added.
Researchers explained that the drug boosts the levels of acetylocholine, which is a neurotransmitter that keeps brain cells in good shape and increases brain power. Nevertheless, while it does not prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia from fully developing, it considerably slows down their symptoms’ onset.
The drug received approval only for mild and moderate cases, but health institutions recommended doctors to prescribe it to late-stage cases as well. In 2012, a comprehensive study showed that the drug brought substantial functional and mental improvements in later stages, too.
But doctors do not prescribe it to late stages because they fear that the side-effects may outweigh benefits. Side-effects include nausea, muscle cramps, and trouble in sleeping.
The new study involved 295 dementia patients. Researchers learned that the cheap dementia drug may keep late-stage patients out of nursing homes since just 20 percent of people who remained on the drug were taken into nursing homes within 12 months, as compared with 37 percent of those who were taken off the drug.
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