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Open Access Research article

Early intervention in Alzheimer’s disease: a health economic study of the effects of diagnostic timing

Jennifer H Barnett12, Lily Lewis3, Andrew D Blackwell12* and Matthew Taylor3

Author Affiliations

1 Cambridge Cognition, 9 Tunbridge Court, Bottisham, CB25 9TU Cambridge, UK

2 Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

3 York Health Economics Consortium, University of York, York, UK

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BMC Neurology 2014, 14:101  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-14-101

Published: 7 May 2014

Abstract

Background

Intervention and treatment in Alzheimer’s disease dementia (AD-dementia) can be cost effective but the majority of patients are not diagnosed in a timely manner. Technology is now available that can enable the earlier detection of cognitive loss associated with incipient dementia, offering the potential for earlier intervention in the UK health care system. This study aimed to determine to what extent the timing of an intervention affects its cost-effectiveness.

Methods

Using published data describing cognitive decline in the years prior to an AD diagnosis, we modelled the effects on healthcare costs and quality-adjusted life years of hypothetical symptomatic and disease-modifying interventions. Early and standard interventions were assumed to have equal clinical effects, but the early intervention could be applied up to eight years prior to standard diagnosis.

Results

A symptomatic treatment which immediately improved cognition by one MMSE point and reduced in efficacy over three years, would produce a maximum net benefit when applied at the earliest timepoint considered, i.e. eight years prior to standard diagnosis. In this scenario, the net benefit was reduced by around 17% for every year that intervention was delayed. In contrast, for a disease-modifying intervention which halted cognitive decline for one year, economic benefits would peak when treatment effects were applied two years prior to standard diagnosis. In these models, the maximum net benefit of the disease modifying intervention was fifteen times larger than that of the symptomatic treatment.

Conclusion

Timeliness of intervention is likely to have an important impact on the cost-effectiveness of both current and future treatments. Healthcare policy should aim to optimise the timing of AD-dementia diagnosis, which is likely to necessitate detecting and treating patients several years prior to current clinical practice.

Keywords:
Alzheimer’s disease; Dementia; Diagnosis; Treatment; Early intervention; Health economics; Cost-effectiveness; Cholinesterase inhibitors