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Curr Med Res Opin. 2003;19(8):707-14.

Strategies for continued successful treatment of Alzheimer's disease: switching cholinesterase inhibitors.

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  • 1McGill Centre for Studies in Aging, Verdun, Quebec, Canada.


Cholinesterase (ChE) inhibitors represent the standard therapeutic approach to the treatment of Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, a proportion of patients experience lack or loss of therapeutic benefit with an initial agent, or discontinue due to safety/tolerability issues. In many instances, no alternative treatment is offered once the initial agent has been stopped. Thus, for many patients, the total duration of treatment is relatively short in comparison with the chronic nature of AD. Switching medications is a common therapeutic strategy within many drug classes across many clinical areas following a lack/loss of efficacy or safety/tolerability problems, and is also an increasingly important concept in the management of AD with ChE inhibitors. A number of open-label studies, where patients were switched from donepezil to rivastigmine, have indicated that approximately 50% of patients experiencing a lack/loss of efficacy with donepezil (a selective acetylcholinesterase [AChE] inhibitor) respond to subsequent treatment with rivastigmine (a dual AChE and butyrylcholinesterase inhibitor). In these studies, rivastigmine was well tolerated, and the occurrence of safety/tolerability problems with donepezil was not predictive of similar problems with rivastigmine. In the summer of 2002, leading neurologists and psychiatrists attended a medical experts meeting to discuss the clinical importance of switching ChE inhibitors in AD. The expert panel examined available clinical data, shared clinical experiences, and discussed current clinical guidelines for switching. The panel also aimed to reach consensus on 'whom to switch', 'when to switch' and 'how to switch'. The key findings from that meeting are reported in this review.

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