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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Progressive cholinergic decline in Alzheimer's Disease: consideration for treatment with donepezil 23 mg in patients with moderate to severe symptomatology

Marwan Sabbagh1* and Jeffrey Cummings2

Author Affiliations

1 The Cleo Roberts Center for Clinical Research, Banner Sun Health Research Institute, Sun City, Arizona, USA

2 The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Cleveland, Ohio, USA

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BMC Neurology 2011, 11:21  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-11-21

Published: 7 February 2011

Abstract

Of the estimated 5.3 million people with Alzheimer's disease in the United States, more than half would be classified as having moderate or severe disease. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disorder with the moderate to severe stages generally characterized by significant cognitive, functional, and behavioral dysfunction. Unsurprisingly, these advanced stages are often the most challenging for both patients and their caregivers/families. Symptomatic treatments for moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease are approved in the United States and include the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor donepezil and the glutamate receptor antagonist memantine. Progressive symptomatic decline is nevertheless inevitable even with the available therapies, and therefore additional treatment options are urgently needed for this segment of the Alzheimer's disease population. An immediate-release formulation of donepezil has been available at an approved dose of 5-10 mg/d for the past decade. Recently, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved a higher-dose (23 mg/d) donepezil formulation, which provides more gradual systemic absorption, a longer time to maximum concentration (8 hours) versus the immediate-release formulation (3 hours), and higher daily concentrations. Herein, we review (1) the scientific data on the importance of cholinergic deficits in Alzheimer's disease treatment strategies, (2) the rationale for the use of higher-dose acetylcholinesterase inhibitors in patients with advanced disease, and (3) recent clinical evidence supporting the use of higher-dose donepezil in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease.