Warning of weight loss caused by Alzheimer’s drugs

Research in the United States has warned that several of the drugs commonly prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease may have an unrecognised side-effect of harmful weight loss.

Patients aged 65 and over taking Cholinesterase inhibitors, used to relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer's, for a period of 12 months or more were found in the US study be at significantly higher risk of weight loss.

The findings published this month (August) in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, reported that nearly a third (29%) of patients on the inhibitors experienced weight loss that was clinically significant.

Cholinesterase inhibitors, which include Donepezil (also known as Aricept), Rivastigmine and Galantamine are all widely prescribed in the UK and have an important role to play in alleviating symptoms, but potential weight loss is something that will now require careful monitoring.

Head of Research at Alzheimer's Society, James Pickett  gives his advice:

'With any treatment it's important to weigh up the benefits compared to the side effects. Cholinesterase inhibitors are helpful to thousands of people with Alzheimer's disease in managing their symptoms, such as anxiety and concentration, and can improve their ability to continue daily activities. Treatments for Alzheimer's are extremely limited however, and we desperately need more effective drugs.

'Unexplained weight loss can be serious so it is important that this kind of research is done so that doctors can be vigilant regarding the potential causes.

More research including a more representative group of people with dementia would be welcome to validate these findings.'

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  • 26 August 2015