Background: Current treatment guidelines for Alzheimer's disease (AD) do not reflect more recently collected data on therapeutic outcomes other than cognitive function and memory, and this has led to a limited understanding of the value of drug therapy in AD.
Objectives: To evaluate the need to revise treatment guidelines for AD, to review data that have become available since the publication of current guidelines, and to communicate how existing guidelines and relevant new data can be valuable to the primary care provider who assesses and treats patients with AD.
Data sources: A MEDLINE search was conducted to identify existing treatment guidelines using the MeSH headings Alzheimer disease-drug therapy AND practice guidelines. The alternative terms treatment guidelines, practice parameter, and practice recommendation were also searched in conjunction with the MeSH term Alzheimer disease-drug therapy. Additionally, MEDLINE was searched using the term dementia and publication type "practice guideline." All searches were limited to articles published within the last 10 years, in English. A total of 116 articles were identified by these searches. Additional publications were identified by manually searching the reference lists of these articles and of published clinical trials of AD therapies.
Study selection and data extraction: Current AD treatment guidelines and clinical trial results for AD treatment options were extracted, reviewed, and summarized to meet the objectives of this article.
Data synthesis: Current guidelines support the use of cholinesterase inhibitors in patients with mild to moderate AD. More recent clinical research indicates that cholinesterase inhibitor treatment provides effectiveness across a wide range of dementia severity and multiple symptom domains. These medications also significantly decrease caregiver burden and may lower the risk for nursing home placement.
Conclusions: The expanding literature on AD medications suggests that treatment guidelines need to be reexamined. Recent data emphasize preservation of abilities and delay of adverse outcomes in AD patients rather than short-term improvements in cognitive test scores. Treatment appears to provide the greatest benefit when it is initiated early in the course of the disease and maintained over the long term. Revised treatment guidelines should address newer medications and more recent outcomes considerations, as well as provide guidance on how long to continue and when to discontinue pharmacotherapy for AD.