Objective: To determine the efficacy of donepezil hydrochloride for the treatment of Alzheimer disease in patients drawn from clinical practice.
Design: Two-center, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-masked crossover study.
Setting: Memory disorders units at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women's hospitals, Boston.
Patients: Sixty individuals (30 men and 30 women; mean +/- SD age, 75.0+/-9.5 years) with probable Alzheimer disease and scores of 20 or less on the information-memory-concentration subscale of the Blessed Dementia Scale.
Interventions: Placebo wash-in, followed in randomized sequence by (1) donepezil hydrochloride therapy, 5 mg/d, for 6 weeks, followed by placebo washout for 6 weeks and (2) placebo treatment for 6 weeks.
Primary outcome measure: Change in Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale cognitive subscale scores from the beginning to the end of the two 6-week treatment periods.
Results: Among patients completing treatment and testing for both periods (n = 48), subscale scores improved (mean +/- SEM) 2.17+/-0.98 points (95% confidence interval, 0.20-4.10 points) during donepezil therapy relative to placebo therapy (P = .04). Scores returned toward baseline within 3 weeks of drug washout. There was no associated change in caregiver-rated global impression (donepezil vs placebo: proportion improved, 0.24 vs 0.22; proportion worsened, 0.27 vs 0.35; P = .34) or on specific tests of explicit memory or verbal fluency. Contrary to studies with tacrine, the presence of the apolipoprotein E epsilon4 allele did not predict donepezil treatment failure. Most common adverse events related to donepezil therapy were nausea (5 patients), diarrhea (3 patients), and agitation (3 patients). Serious events possibly related to drug use were seizure, pancreatitis, and syncope (1 patient each).
Conclusion: This independent confirmation of data from phase 3 trials suggests that donepezil therapy modestly improves cognition in patients with Alzheimer disease who are encountered in clinical practice.