This Transdermal Patch May Benefit Both Alzheimer’s Patients and Caregivers

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by Ray Burow |

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Dispensing medications is one of the most critical tasks when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. In 2019, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 89% of U.S. adults ages 65 and older take prescription medication. Most people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease are part of the same demographic and often take multiple medications to manage both dementia and other health conditions.

Such was the case for my mother. Years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, diabetes medication was essential. Having the good fortune to participate in a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s disease, my mother was also directed to take several pills daily, including vitamins and specific Alzheimer’s medications.

In the early stages of dementia, she managed her medications. But as the disease progressed, it became the shared responsibility of her familial caregivers, especially following what could have been a grave mistake. My mother ingested my father’s heart medicine, mistaking the plastic pill dispenser for her own. We spent several hours in the emergency room before gathering why her blood pressure had almost bottomed out. Her mistake had her teetering between life and death.

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Dispensing medication is challenging

As Alzheimer’s progresses, patients may lose the ability to swallow. My mother was subjected to the bitter taste of her pills, crushed with a mortar and pestle, and delivered in a small amount of liquid. She took it, but it was distasteful, to say the least. Sometimes we’d siphon the mixture through a straw and deliver it to her like a little bird. I accidentally took more than one hit of nasty-tasting medications, attempting to ensure Mom received her doses. If only there’d been a better way.

In the mid-stages of her disease, we found pills in pockets and bedsheets and on the floor. We learned not only to watch Mom take the meds, but to ask her to open her mouth to show us that the pills indeed disappeared down her throat. My mother never complained, but speaking empathetically, it must have been somewhat humiliating to be treated like a child. However, it was a necessary evil.

A possible solution

In March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first and only once-weekly patch for delivery of Adlarity (donepezil transdermal system), a medication used to treat mild, moderate, or severe Alzheimer’s-related dementia. Developed by the biopharmaceutical company Corium, Adlarity is expected to be available to U.S. patients this fall.

“We’re thrilled that with the approval of Adlarity, we have the opportunity to bring to market a new treatment option that can help those living with Alzheimer’s disease and those that care for them,” Corium’s President and Chief Executive Officer Perry Sternberg told me in an email.

Donepezil is currently available as an oral medication, sold under the brand name Aricept, but Adlarity will allow the medication to be administered through the skin. While the company has been developing transdermal products for 20 years, Adlarity is the first transdermal product being brought to market for Alzheimer’s disease.

A breakthrough for Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers

In preparing for the approval and launch of Adlarity, Corium representatives reached out to many caregivers and patients, even pulling together an Alzheimer’s disease caregiving board to gain insight into the needs of familial caregivers and their loved ones.

While taking a single pill every day might not be a burden for most, Alzheimer’s caregivers tell a different story, Sternberg said.

Being able to replace a daily pill with a once-weekly patch can not only make it easier for caregivers to administer Alzheimer’s medication, but it may also help to reduce potential side effects, such as the gastrointestinal issues that can result from taking donepezil orally.

Sternberg told me: “This can help patients living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers achieve compliance with treatment through consistent delivery of donepezil over seven days, with a low likelihood of gastrointestinal side effects, and in a formulation beneficial to patients who have difficulty swallowing.”

After connecting with multiple caregivers, Sternberg said many described transdermal delivery of donepezil as an “incredible advancement,” and I’d have to agree. I’m convinced that this type of technology would have been invaluable to my mother and those of us who served as her caregivers.

Sternberg added, “It’s important to us that we stay connected with the caregiving community as we continue to prepare for launch and into the future to ensure we can actively listen to their feedback and think about what else Corium can do to further address their needs.”

As more Alzheimer’s treatments are developed, I hope pharmaceutical companies will continue to consider the needs of both patients and caregivers.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


MaryJo Henderson avatar

MaryJo Henderson

I have taken Donepezil and had nightmares. Now taking Memantine, but can't tell a difference. Any advice?

Ray Burow avatar

Ray Burow

Hi MaryJo,

Thank you for reading the column and for being a part of our community. I can't provide any advice regarding your medications, except to encourage you to speak with your healthcare professional. The negative effects you're experiencing could be totally unrelated to the medication they prescribed or perhaps an adjustment is in order. The transdermal patch might be an option, but that is a careful decision that you and your doctor would have to make, and the patch isn't available to the public quite yet, though it will be soon. I also encourage you to never stop taking prescribed meds, without speaking to your doctor first. Stopping abruptly can be dangerous.

I wish you all the best in your health journey, and hope you'll let us know how you're doing.



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