What You Need to Know About the Controversial New Alzheimer's Drug Aduhelm

The FDA approved the drug for people in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease, but many questions about Aduhelm remain.

Talking with a doctor

For the first time in almost 20 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new treatment for Alzheimer's Disease. The agency approved the drug aducanumab (Aduhelm) to potentially slow the progression of the devastating illness.

More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, which is the most common form of dementia and makes up about 60-70% of all cases. Anyone who has had any experience with the disease knows how traumatic it can be for everyone involved, whether you're a patient, family member, or caregiver.

But what started as good news has turned into controversy. Unclear results, conflicting information, high prices, and a refusal to prescribe from some well-known medical institutions —including the Cleveland Clinic — has resulted in countless questions and an investigation by Congress.

Why Is the Approval of Aduhelm Significant?

According to the FDA, Aduhelm targets what is largely considered to be a marker of Alzheimer's — the presence of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain. In a clinical trial, Aduhelm was found to reduce these plaques, which could lead to a reduction of the patient's clinical decline.

The FDA said it "examined the clinical trial findings with a fine-tooth comb" and used its Accelerated Approval program to make its decision. For scientists, this decision opens the door to new research and possibilities.

So What's the Controversy?

There were two clinical trials with different results. One found that people who took Aduhelm declined more slowly than those in the placebo group. The other study, however, found that the drug did not help and showed no effect.

There were also side effects. Brain swelling, and in some cases, small brain bleeds, occurred in approximately 40% of cases. About one in four people who experienced brain swelling also noted changes in their vision, mental confusion, headaches, or nausea. Other side effects included falls, loose stool, and possible allergic reactions.

Then there's the price. A year of Aduhelm, which is given by monthly infusion, costs $56,000, and it's not yet clear if Medicare will cover the drug. The agency started a nine-month review process in July.

Who Is Aduhelm For?

Aduhelm has been approved for people in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Talk to your doctor about your specific case and medical history.

Is There Anything That Can Help Prevent Alzheimer's?

Research suggests that certain lifestyle changes can help to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's by almost 60%, even if your genes put you at risk:

  • Perform at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol use
  • Try a Mediterranean diet, focusing on plant-based foods
  • Keep your brain active by picking up new skills, reading books, learning a new dance, and helping others through volunteering
  • Keep a social network offline

In 1985 when quarterback Joe Theismann had his fibula and tibia shattered by a tackle, it ended his NFL career — a career in which he'd suffered seven broken noses, a broken collarbone, and broken hands and ribs. "People would say that it was a tragedy… but…it was a blessing," he's said. "I'd become somewhat of a self-absorbed individual and didn't really care much about a lot of things except myself. And ever since that day…I've tried to be a better person."

Yes, Chronic Pain Alters Your Personality

All that physical pain can make it difficult to be your best self. That's been confirmed by a study in the European Journal of Pain. Seems people with chronic pain, have very low levels of the personality-influencing neurotransmitter glutamate in their frontal cortex, triggering emotional dysregulation and increasing anxiety.

Keep Reading Show less