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Dementia Drugs May be Risky

May 28, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

We have long been writing about the serious side effects associated with some popular dementia drugs. Now, ScienceDaily is reporting that these adverse effects could be placing the elderly at risk, citing Sudeep Gill, a geriatrics professor at Queen’s University who is also an Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care Career Scientist working at Providence Care's St. Mary's of the Lake Hospital in Kingston.

Aricept, Exelon, and Reminyl are in a class of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors and are typically prescribed for Alzheimer's disease patients and patients with related dementias, said Science Daily, explaining that the drugs increase the brain chemical thought to aid in memory. The drugs also seem to decrease heart rates and prompt fainting, said Science Daily, noting that the enormity of the issue was not previously understood.

"This is very troubling, because the drugs are marketed as helping to preserve memory and improve function. But for a subset of people, the effect appears to be the exact opposite," Dr. Gill said, quoted Science Daily.

Dr. Gill and his team found, based on province-wide data, that patients taking cholinesterase inhibitors experienced the following over those patients not on these drugs: Hospitalizations for fainting, almost twice as often; lowered heart rates occurred 69 percent more often; increased chance of being permanently implanted for pacemakers, about 49 percent more often; and increased risk of hip fractures, 18 percent more often, said Science Daily. Sadly, said Dr. Gill, cholinesterase inhibitors are one of the few effective dementia treatments currently available, reported Science Daily.

Slowed heart rate from cholinesterase inhibitors could cause someone to faint and “suffer fall-related injuries such as a broken hip,” said Science Daily, which could be dangerous, even deadly for the elderly. Unfortunately, many doctors do not know about the link between these dementia drugs and the dangerous side effects, noted Science Daily. A serious problem because, for instance, patients on dementia drugs who faint could be implanted with a pace maker, which would be an unnecessary and dangerous procedure, especially in the frail and elderly, Science Daily pointed out.

The findings are published in the journal, Archives of Internal Medicine and involved scientists from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, the University of Toronto, and Harvard University, said Science Daily.

We have reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was examining the results of a study on Aricept, which examined 974 patients suffering from dementia.  There were 11 deaths among patients taking Aricept as compared to no deaths occurring among those taking the placebo. Medical experts say that the study should not be written off and that it might indicate that Aricept and similar drugs increase the risks of heart disease, according to a prior New York Times report. Also, data from two clinical trials indicated that people taking Reminyl (Generic: Galantamine) have a much higher death rate than those taking a placebo. The trials, involved approximately 2,000 patients in 16 countries.


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