More than 5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease, an insidious disorder that gradually destroys the brain, robbing people who have the condition of the ability to remember, complete everyday tasks, and function on their own. Several drugs are approved to treat it, including donepezil (Aricept and generic) and memantine (Namenda). But they don’t work well for most people, according to a new report from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs. In fact, it concluded that none of the drugs could be recommended as a Best Buy.
The decision was based in part on a large-scale analysis by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and published in April 2010. It found that the drugs didn’t delay the onset of Alzheimer’s or improve or maintain mental function. An earlier review by the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians, published in 2008, reached similar conclusions.
Besides not being very effective, Alzheimer’s medication can cause side effects. While most are relatively minor, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, muscle cramps, and tremors, they could be debilitating in older people with dementia who can’t communicate their discomfort. In rare cases, the drugs can cause a slowed heartbeat, gastrointestinal bleeding, and possibly even convulsions or seizures. They’re also expensive: An average monthly prescription can range from $177 to more than $400.