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Donepezil in Alzheimer’s disease: an evidence-based review of its impact on clinical and economic outcomes

Authors Knowles J

Published 31 March 2006 Volume 2006:1-Issues 3 & 4(3)


Joanne Knowles

Core Medical Publishing, Knutsford, UK

Introduction: Donepezil is indicated for the symptomatic treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. It is a specific and reversible inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase (AChE); by increasing levels of available acetylcholine, donepezil may compensate for the loss of functioning cholinergic brain cells.

Aims: This review evaluates the clinical impact of donepezil by assessing randomized controlled and open-label naturalistic trials, as well as observational studies. A broad perspective is gained of its effectiveness on various outcomes.

Evidence review: There is strong evidence that donepezil has efficacy against the three major domains of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, namely functional ability, behavior, and cognition. The strongest evidence is for improvement or less deterioration in global outcomes and cognition in the short to medium term. There is limited evidence that improved global outcomes are maintained in the long term and clear evidence to support long-term maintenance of cognitive benefits. Also, donepezil appears to maintain function in the long term and there is some level 1 and 2 evidence of improved or limited deterioration in behavior or mood in the short to medium term. Despite donepezil’s effects on major symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, its impact on patients’ quality of life has not been consistently demonstrated, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of assessing this aspect in this patient population. Donepezil may also lessen caregiver burden. Donepezil has some effect on markers of brain function, but more data are needed to confirm a neuroprotective effect. There is limited and conflicting evidence that long-term donepezil treatment delays time to institutionalization. There is some evidence that donepezil may be cost effective, especially when unpaid caregiver costs are considered. Donepezil is generally safe and well tolerated.

Clinical value: AChE inhibitors are the only agents recommended for the treatment of cognitive decline in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Donepezil is more effective than placebo and is well tolerated in improving the major symptoms of this disease. Improvements are usually modest, although stabilization of cognitive and functional symptoms with donepezil can also be considered an important clinical outcome. Donepezil may lessen caregiver burden. Donepezil may also be cost effective, especially when unpaid caregiver costs are considered. More data are required from randomized controlled trials with long-term follow-up to confirm its cost effectiveness and impact on quality of life, disease progression, and time to institutionalization.

Key words: acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, donepezil, evidence, outcomes

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