Withdrawal of Alzheimer’s drugs cannot be justified’

ALZHEIMER S disease is one of the cruellest conditions imaginable, slowly taking the mind of the sufferer and isolating them from their loved ones. For some victims, there is little that can be done to fight the onset of the disease, but for some the use

ALZHEIMER'S disease is one of the cruellest conditions imaginable, slowly taking the mind of the sufferer and isolating them from their loved ones.

For some victims, there is little that can be done to fight the onset of the disease, but for some the use of drugs can delay or reduce the symptoms such as memory loss and states of confusion.

But now a Government agency has ruled a series of drugs used to treat the disease are not cost effective for sufferers in the early stages - a decision which has been slammed by a St Ives couple.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has decided donepezil, rivastigmine and galatamine, will no longer be offered free of charge to patients.


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Starting from November 22, these drugs are out of bounds for people in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

The drugs, which cost about £2.50 per patient per day, will now only be used to treat the disease when it reaches a "moderate" stage.

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Studies conducted by NICE concluded that the drugs "did not make enough of a difference" to patients' well-being to justify the costs involved. While the new guidelines will not affect patients currently prescribed the drug, newly-diagnosed patients will be left without.

Oliver and Mary Drake are horrified at the prospect that the drug which has helped maintain their standard of life for six years may no longer be available to newly-diagnosed sufferers.

Retired engineer Oliver, 61, of Windsor Close, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2000 and was prescribed Aricept - also known as donepezil - by his

doctor.

His wife Mary, 67, said that Oliver's condition has hardly deteriorated at all in the six-year period since his diagnosis, something she puts entirely down to the drug.

She told The Hunts Post: "I defy anyone to look at Oliver and tell me this drug has not helped him. How can the Government justify withdrawing a drug that can benefit the sufferer, the carer and the family?

"You would never guess Oliver has Alzheimer's and we are able to lead a life that is, to all intents and purposes, normal. We take holidays and go to social events and I put it all down to Aricept."

Oliver, who has hospital check ups every six months to monitor his condition and is still able to drive, said: "We have to be pragmatic about the situation. There's no point worrying about what might happen in the future but I'm so grateful for the extra years these drugs have given me.

"Occasionally I might pop to the shops and forget something but I've learnt to write things down. It's about finding new ways to cope."

Mary said: "How can you justify withdrawing a drug that can benefit both the sufferer and the carer? Nothing will ever convince me that these drugs do not work.

"At any rate, withdrawing them is false economy, because people will simply end up requiring nursing care earlier."

The Alzheimer's Society is supporting a national protest against NICE's decision on Friday, November 17, and the Huntingdonshire branch will be playing its part.

Mike Davison, from the Huntingdonshire branch of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Never has the need for services for Alzheimer's sufferers been greater as the population ages.

"More and more of us now know someone with dementia or have taken on the job of full-time carer which makes the decision to withdraw these drugs all the more ridiculous.

"We encourage people to write to their local MP and to get in touch with us if they would like to stage a protest."

INFORMATION: Contact the Huntingdon branch of the Alzheimer's Society on 01480 415235, call in to the offices at the Primrose Centre, Huntingdon for more information or visit www.alzheimers.org.uk/ Huntingdon

Society in dire need of funds

THROUGH a massive fundraising effort, the future of the Huntingdonshire branch of the Alzheimer's Society has been safeguarded until March 2007.

Mike Davison, of the Huntingdonshire branch, said: "Although we do receive some funding from the county council and the primary care trust, the majority of the money we receive is in the form of gifts or donations."

The money is used by the society to offer support and advice for those affected by Alzheimer's

"We are a voluntary organisation but we require some quite substantial funding to keep going and we rely on donations and the goodwill of the public," he added.

Mary Drake, whose husband Oliver has Alzheimer's disease, said the society is invaluable. "What they do at the society really is above and beyond the call of duty, not just for Alzheimer's sufferers but for their families and carers as well.

"They do a fantastic job and their support is a lifeline for carers, who often need all the support they can get."

FACTfile:

# About 750,000 people in the United Kingdom are estimated to have dementia, of whom about 400,000 have Alzheimer's disease.

# Approximately 78,000 people take donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine, with two thirds of those taking donepezil.

# In 2001, NICE recommended the drugs should be used as standard but it revised its opinion in 2005, stating the drugs were not good value for money.

# As at November 7, a total of 216 members of Parliament had signed an early day motion expressing concern at NICE's decision. However Malcolm Moss MP and David Howarth MP, are the only Cambridheshire members to have signed the motion.

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