Two new medications, called lecanemab and donanemab, have shown success in clinical trials in slowing down Alzheimer’s disease.

These are known as disease-modifying treatments. While they’re not currently available in the UK, the medications are under review to see if they could be prescribed to people in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s, when the treatments are most effective.

When people can be diagnosed in the earlier stages of dementia and access new disease-modifying treatments, the typical pattern of decline experienced by those living with dementia could be changed.

By treating someone before noticeable symptoms start to happen, these medications could give people with early-stage Alzheimer’s more time to live an independent life.

However, before a new disease-modifying treatment can be approved for use, it would have to show that it works to improve or maintain a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks.

Symptomatic drug treatments vs disease-modifying treatments

Symptomatic treatments for dementia Disease-modifying treatments for dementia
Available in the UKNot currently available in the UK
Can stabilise or slightly improve a person’s symptoms, often their memory and thinking problemsDesigned to slow or stop the progression of a disease that causes dementia, and slow down the speed that symptoms get worse
Can help them maintain their ability to carry out everyday tasks, making a big difference to their quality of lifeAim to maintain a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks
Side effects can include headaches, constipation or diarrhoea, and tirednessSide effects can include amyloid-related imaging abnormalities (ARIA), which are areas of brain swelling or bleeds
Don't work well for everyone. Also don’t continue to work effectively once a person’s dementia becomes more severeDon't work well for everyone. No evidence about long-term effect over many years yet
Beneficial effects only last for around a year or twoPreserve a person’s ability to function independently for longer
Do not stop the disease from progressing and damaging more brain over timeNot a cure, but a positive first step towards changing the lives of people affected

Research suggests that new disease-modifying treatments will have the most beneficial effect when given to people in the very early stages of dementia. This is when someone goes to their doctor and they are diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or ideally even before any noticeable symptoms occur. This means that early diagnosis is key to the success of new emerging treatments, and the two go hand in hand.

 

Find out more about how our researchers are working hard to find new treatments and improve early diagnosis so that people living with dementia can keep more of their independence and still enjoy daily activities.

The Alzheimer’s drugs, lecanemab and donanemab, have proved what we’ve always known – that, through research, we can slow down the diseases that cause dementia. But we won’t stop there. With your support, we will keep going until everyone is free from the heartbreak of dementia – that means finding a cure.

 

You can find out more about emerging treatments on our explainers about donanemab here and lecanemab here.

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Alzheimer’s Research UK has a wide range of information about dementia. Order booklets or download them from our online form.

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Treatments for dementia

Read more about treatments for dementia, including information on treating depression, anxiety and agitation and for information on antipsychotics.

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Dementia Research Infoline

Do you have questions about treatments for Alzheimer's disease? Keen to get involved in research studies to trial new treatments?

Contact the Dementia Research Infoline

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0300 111 5 111

infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org