Review ranks safety, effectiveness of Alzheimer's drugs

  • A review of the safety and effectiveness of the four drugs approved for Alzheimer's treatment found that donepezil was the most effective, but also the most likely to produce side effects.
  • A small study found that combining a specific care management program with memantine multiplied the drug’s ability to improve daily function by about 7.5 times.

I rarely report on drugs, but because I do have a number of early reports on the four drugs approved for use with Alzheimer’s, I wanted to provide this update.

The four drugs are donepezil, rivastigmine, galantamine and memantine. This review is said to be the first to rank their comparative safety and effectiveness. It used evidence from 142 clinical trials published between 1996 and 2015. The number of patients in each study ranged from 13 to 2,045, and the review evaluated a total of 33,889 patients.

Donepezil was the most effective medication for Alzheimer's dementia across all effectiveness outcomes, including cognition, behavior and overall health, according to the study. It was also the only cognitive enhancer that produced effects that could be observed clinically, not merely statistically.

However, patients who took donepezil were more likely to experience side effects including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea than those who received a placebo.

Previous research found that these drugs don’t improve cognition or function in people with MCI, and these patients experience significantly more nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and headaches.

Memantine plus care program dramatically better at reducing Alzheimer's symptoms than drug alone

A small study found that combining a specific care management program with memantine multiplied the drug’s ability to improve daily function by about 7.5 times.

The Comprehensive, Individualized, Person-Centered Management program (CI-PCM) includes caregiver training, residence assessment, therapeutic home visits, and caregiver support groups.

In the 28-week, blinded, randomized controlled trial, 10 patient-caregiver groups enrolled in the CI-PCM were compared against 10 pairs receiving standard community care. All patients were taking memantine. Participants were assessed at the end of the trial using a recognized tool called Functional Assessment Staging (FAST), which measures losses in the ability of a person to independently carry out daily activities, such as dressing, bathing and toileting.

Caregiver training included "memory coaching" that teaches patients how to accomplish skills they lost.

The findings were presented July 16 at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2017 in London.


Tricco, A. C., Ashoor, H. M., Soobiah, C., Rios, P., Veroniki, A. A., Hamid, J. S., … Straus, S. E. (2018). Comparative Effectiveness and Safety of Cognitive Enhancers for Treating Alzheimer’s Disease: Systematic Review and Network Metaanalysis. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 66(1), 170–178.

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