As Fading from Memory points out, current Alzheimer’s medications, such as Aricept and Namenda, have limited usefulness. They work great for some people, so many people use them. But the main reason that many people use them is that, so far, nothing works any better.
The claims of effectiveness for these drugs comes from experimental research. The problem is researchers can’t study everything. My mother participated in a study about calcium supplements and osteoporosis. Some women were given calcium supplements, while others were given sugar pills. But the study didn’t seem to examine whether the women drank extra milk or got extra exercise. It just studied pills.
Researchers can give Namenda to one group of people, and sugar pills to another, and see which group had fewer symptoms a year later. But they can’t reverse the experiment. They can’t tell whether one particular grandfather would have been better off if he had taken a sugar pill instead of Namenda. It’s too late. They already gave him Namenda.
That means that the people who spend the most time with an Alzheimer’s patient are well qualified to judge how well these drugs are working. They can see if they are getting better or worse, with the understandings that these drugs only claim to slow the progress, not reverse it. Our doctor said that many family members told him that Aricept made their loved ones more lively than they could handle. They no longer slept too much. They wanted to stay up late and party.
Other families stare and squint at their relatives, wondering if they seem any different because of their medications. When my grandmother took Aricept, we didn’t have to squint and wonder. We could see and hear the difference. Aricept made her happy. It gave her energy. It caused her to talk with old relatives whom we couldn’t see.
Now, Vitamin B12 shots also gave her energy. Visitors also made her happy. And she normally didn’t talk with invisible people. So we stopped giving her Aricept.
Instead, my grandmother took Namenda. It didn’t seem to have the same mind-altering effects for her, and when we squinted and stared at her, her mind seemed to be staying at about the same level. That’s the claim of Namenda, as I recall. When you stop taking it, you may quickly drop to the level you would have been if you had never taken it. Kind of like my favorite Japanese fairy tale Urashima Taro.