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First Alzheimer’s Agitation Drug Could Help Patients, Caregivers

The Food and Drug Administration just announced the first approved treatment for agitation experienced by people with Alzheimer’s dementia. The medication could improve quality of life for many of the 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s today. 

New Medication Reduces Agitation 

The medication, brexpiprazole, reduces the incidence and intensity of agitation that occurs as a direct result of Alzheimer’s dementia. Patients who experience agitation may pace, wander or lash out at others, endangering themselves and their caregivers. They are also at greater risk of serious falls, fractures and infections.  

These challenges go beyond patients. As Alzheimer’s symptoms worsen over time, family and friends may find themselves unable to comfort their loved one experiencing agitation. In long-term care settings, too, agitation can make caregiving difficult. Disruptive behaviors can create safety challenges and interpersonal problems.  

Therefore, new medication specifically treating agitation in Alzheimer’s offers tremendous hope to patients, families and caregivers. 

Barriers Could Impact Patients’ Access to Medication 

Access barriers, however, may prevent patients from benefitting from this newly approved medication.  

For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reimburse just one PET scan per patient, per lifetime, in the context of a clinical trial. This makes it difficult to track patients’ disease progression and plan treatment accordingly. PET scans are proven to improve patient care, correct misdiagnoses, and reduce hospitalizations in people with neurodegenerative diseases.  

Long-term care settings may introduce a different type of barrier. Many long-term care facilities face dose-reduction requirements, intended to protect residents from the overuse of behavior-modifying medications. Dose-reduction requirements could, however, have the unintended effect of impeding patients’ access to necessary agitation medication. These requirements could exacerbate existing psychiatric symptoms, straining caregivers and staff.  

Access to agitation treatment is essential for patients living with Alzheimer’s dementia. Policymakers and service providers can act decisively to ensure that unnecessary barriers do not impact the newly approved medication. 

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