For the first time in 18 years, the FDA has approved a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. The last approved treatment, Memantine, was approved in 2003. While this announcement quickly started circling amongst news outlets and social media, it began to raise more questions than it answered: What does this mean for my family member with Alzheimer’s?
To clear up some of this confusion, HarborChase Senior Living is sharing some important information about the new treatment and what this could mean for you and your family.
What is the New Alzheimer’s Treatment?
The historic new treatment is called aducanumab and goes by the brand name Aduhelm™. The FDA approval of aducanumab is groundbreaking for many reasons. The first being that it is the first Alzheimer’s therapy in nearly two decades.
The second, and more notable, is that aducanumab is the first drug of its kind that addresses the underlying biology of Alzheimer’s disease—the presence of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain—as opposed to temporarily mitigating symptoms. In effect, aducanumab aims to attack the process and slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease instead of simply treating the symptoms—up until now, a revolutionary concept.
Does Aducanumab Cure Alzheimer’s Disease?
While aducanumab is a groundbreaking treatment that is generating optimism about the future of Alzheimer’s research, unfortunately, it is not a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Many researchers and officials at Biogen, the drug’s manufacturer, note that the drug may be most effective in those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early-stage Alzheimer’s.
Who is Eligible for the New Treatment?
While the FDA will not require specific diagnostic testing to determine candidacy, the clinical trials indicate that the drug is best suited for those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or memory impairment. For example, individuals who are still able to function independently but may require help with more complicated tasks, like paying bills, are more likely to benefit from aducanumab than those who need help with more basic activities like bathing and dressing.
Unfortunately, the early phases of Alzheimer’s disease are when people are more likely to revert to denial or optimism regarding their diagnosis; they are less likely to seek treatment when they still feel confident in their abilities. In these situations, it can be vital to have a close family member or advocate who can have honest conversations with their loved one’s physician.
Another hurdle to receiving the new therapy includes the price and administration. Aducanumab is administered intravenously during a 45-60 minute session every four weeks. Biogen expects the drug to cost $56,000 a year but noted that they are working on deals with Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA Health Administration to make this more accessible.
While the approval of aducanumab is a milestone in the treatment and understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, it’s important to remember that it is not a miracle drug or a cure-all.
Even though more than six million people live with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States, much of the disease is still unknown by experts and researchers. “Alzheimer’s is one of the most incredibly difficult diseases that we know of,” said Charbel Moussa, associate professor of neurology and head of the laboratory for dementia and Parkinsonism at Georgetown University. Even after studying it for 18 years, Moussa says there are still many unknowns.
Bart De Strooper, director of the UK Dementia Research Institute, said the decision to approve aducanumab does indeed mark "a hugely significant milestone,” however, there are "still many barriers to overcome.”
However, it’s important to note that, even if aducanumab may not be readily available or effective for the majority of individuals with Alzheimer’s, it has undoubtedly opened up the doors for more research, funding, and hope—paving the way in the fight against Alzheimer’s.
HarborChase Supports the Fight 💜
HarborChase Senior Living is proud to support the fight against Alzheimer’s through raising funds and awareness. Our specialized memory care services work to provide those with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory impairments the best quality of life through personalized care, welcoming spaces, and daily engagement.
If you have a family member or loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, know that you are not alone. There are resources and help available, including our downloadable guides and services available at HarborChase. For help and support, contact our memory care team.