New Hope for Alzheimer’s Sufferers?

Research has shown promising results for the drug Aricept in treating a precursor to Alzheimer’s called mild cognitive impairment. Others, however, believe MCI is a “bogus” disease used as a marketing ploy by pharmaceutical companies and others trying to exploit sufferers.

New Hope for Alzheimer’s Sufferers? (ABC News)

Alzheimer’s disease, the neurological disorder that affects some 5 million Americans, may in some cases be preceded by an ailment called mild cognitive impairment. But some researchers are skeptical that MCI, marked by the progressive loss of memory, is even a real disorder. “MCI is an arbitrary category on the continuum of cognitive aging,” said Dr. Peter Whitehouse of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.


Criticism of the term MCI has become louder following the publication of a recent study involving Aricept, a drug used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that Aricept slows the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe Aricept, given to patients showing the symptoms of MCI, pushes back the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease by a year.

There is no test currently available that can make a definitive diagnosis of MCI. Only detailed patient histories, along with specific cognitive and psychological testing, can help physicians make a diagnosis of MCI. Disagreement regarding the term MCI relates to its broad usage. Some feel that the term is too inclusive and may capture persons who just have a normal mental decline associated with aging.Other experts suggest there may be an ulterior motive behind creating an MCI, or “early Alzheimer’s,” diagnosis. “MCI is a marketing tool for drug companies,” said Dr. Thomas Finucane, professor of geriatric medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “They are taking advantage of the despair and heartbreak of caregivers who love family members with Alzheimer’s, and selling billions of dollars worth of drugs that have no meaningful effect,” Finucane said.


Other researchers believe MCI is unquestionably a valid diagnosis. “This is a real condition,” said Dr. D.P. Devanand, research scientist at Columbia University in New York. “In MCI the rate of conversion to Alzheimer’s disease is around 10 [percent] to 15 percent annually compared to 1 [percent] to 2 percent in healthy elderly comparison subjects,” Devanand said. “This difference validates the concept of MCI.”

Interesting. It sounds like a legitimate medical dispute on an area of breaking research, rather than a situation where those who might profit are lining up on one side and most legitimate scientists on the other.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    I can see the skeptics’ point. There’s nothing about the phrase “mild cognitive impairment” that limits the description to a particular malady. Rather, it sounds like something one might have after a poor night’s sleep.

  2. lunacy says:

    My sister-in-law is on Aricept.

    She had a brain tumor removed, suffered a severe b-12 deficiency, lots of TIAs and then a stroke.

    After the tumor she was able to work for nearly a year, but then she had the b-12 deficiency and TIAs became incredibly diminished intellectually. From 52 years old to 5 years old in the matter of a few weeks. She couldn’t tell time, operate the stove, read, ANYthing. The slightest problem would be overwhelmingly confusing and her vocabulary was reduced to what seemed like two handfuls of words, and those were unreliable.

    The location of her mini-stroke activity and her major stroke seemed to be at whatever part of her brain dealt with language and problem solving. She couldn’t remember the 7 digits it took to dial a phone number. Couldn’t remember her birthday. Couldn’t remember the steps to cook a microwave meal. LET ALONE remember her medicine! Physically she was fine. Intellectually, she was pitiful. She’d confuse and jumble the simplest words. Say last syllables first and first syllables last. Use the wrong pronoun. You name it. I’ve seen drunks make more sense than this poor woman.

    She stayed with us for 6 months in this manner. Her therapy did some but not much. She went from a retarded kindergartener to a retarded 3rd grader. Then her neurologist suggested the Aricept as an experiment.

    She’s no Einstein now, but I swear I think that Aricept is helping quite a bit. So much so that she’s in her own home, zapping her own meals, remembering her medicines and working in the garden. She’ll regularly pull out 3 and 4 syllable words, hold a decent conversation with you, write her grocery list out, and read the gossip section of the paper.

    Of course, I don’t KNOW its the Aricept but that really is the only thing that’s changed in her treatment.