The FDA has recently approved the dementia fighting drug Exelon in a patch form. The new formulation, Transdermal Exelon, offers patients a new and unique way to get medication which can help with improving cognitive function and slow down memory loss in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The new patch is also FDA approved for patients with Parkinson associated dementia. This is the second patch approved for use in treatment of Parkinson disease. The other is Neupro, a transdermal patch containing the dopamine agonist rotigotine.
Transdermal Exelon joins the group of other medications used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, such as Aricept, Razadyne and Namenda. The patch for of Exelon offers the advantage of not having to take a pill twice daily, continuous medication administration through the skin and less stomach upset. Another advantage is that the patch demonstrated beneficial effects equivalent to the maximum oral dosing of this medication. The problem with the oral medication was intolerance due to nausea and vomiting. While much less, there were some reports of stomach upset with Transdermal Exelon. Another side effect, common to most patch medications, was that of skin irritation. The patch needs to be changed daily and administration sites should be rotated, not using the same site more than once every two weeks. While Exelon, Aricept and Razadyne are in the same chemical family of memory disorder drugs – the acetylcholine esterase inhibitors – Namenda is in a class by itself. For this reason, it can be used in combination with any of the other three. Studies have shown that there is a beneficial effect in improving cognitive function with combining these two different types of medication. Studies are looking into the use of these medications for patients with mild cognitive impairment. These are individuals who have some memory loss but do not fit the criteria to be diagnosed with dementia. Depression, manifesting as dementia, also needs to be excluded.
Alzheimer’s disease is a chronic debilitating illness that slowly robs patients of their memory, cognitive abilities and ability to function independently. They become more and more dependent on others to provide care and transportation for them. Even dressing, eating and bathing become impossible for them to perform without assistance. With the availability of these new memory drugs, the progression of the debilitating symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson disease associated dementia can be slowed down. Some patients actually show functional improvement. Unfortunately, none of these medications halt the progression of the disease. Eventually their quality of life deteriorates and others will need to assist with care giving. The benefit of these medications is that they significantly slow the progression of the disease, possibly keeping loved ones at home, instead of a nursing home, for anywhere from 6-18 months. If you have a loved one with memory loss, early diagnosis and treatment is important. Studies are ongoing to show that with earlier treatment, patients do better over extended periods of time. Bring your family member with memory loss to a neurologist for a complete evaluation.