AT AAIC 2016

TORONTO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – For patients with Alzheimer’s disease, early treatment may translate into lower health care costs and better survival, based on study results reported at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2016.

A review of Medicare claims data from more than 1,300 patients who received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease during 2010-2013 found that patients who got standard anti-dementia therapy within a month of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis had a 28% lower risk of dying by 6 months than did patients who weren’t treated. And while their health care costs spiked at the time of diagnosis, monthly costs were consistently lower, yielding an overall savings of about $1,700 by the end of the study.

It’s not that the drugs themselves exerted any lifesaving effects, said study co-author Christopher Black, associate director of outcomes research at Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway, N.J. Rather, the observed benefit is probably because the patients who got treated also then got consistent medical attention for health-threatening comorbidities.

“This is an important caveat,” Mr. Black said in an interview at the meeting. “We are not saying that anti-dementia treatment is causing longer survival. It’s a proxy for better care. Typically, dementia patients die of complications from comorbidities that are exacerbated by Alzheimer’s symptoms.”

Mr. Black and his colleagues examined healthcare costs and utilization during the 12 months before diagnosis and in the 6 months after diagnosis. They also looked at mortality incidence. He and his colleagues identified 6,553 incident Alzheimer’s patients. Just 35% received a prescription for an anti-dementia medication within the month after diagnosis. Most patients (67%) got donepezil. Other prescribed medications were memantine (19%), rivastigmine (12%) and galantamine (2%).

There were several significant differences between the treated and untreated groups. Untreated patients were older (84 vs. 81 years) and had a significantly higher Charlson comorbidity index (3.5 vs. 3.2). To account for these differences, the researchers used propensity score matching on the basis of medical comorbidities, age, and other demographics to compare 694 patients from each group.

At the end of 6 months, treated patients had a 28% lower risk of dying (hazard ratio, 0.72) than did non-treated patients. Health care costs and utilization showed significant differences as well. Before diagnosis, monthly medical costs were similar (average $665). During the month of diagnosis, costs surged for both groups, although more so in the group that was untreated (mean $6,711 vs. $5,535). This probably reflected the general health differences between the two groups, as well as the cost of transitioning into a hospital, or from a hospital to a long-term care facility, Mr. Black said.

“This spike at the time of diagnosis is important,” he said in an interview. “The major cost driver was inpatient hospitalization and skilled nursing home placement, and this was driven by 10% of the patients.”

After the first month, costs declined and stabilized in each group. However, the between-group differences remained. There were half as many hospice visits per month among the treated patients (0.04 vs. 0.09; P = .0001). Monthly costs overall were lower, but not to a statistically significant extent ($2,207 vs. $2,349; P = .3037). Total health care costs by the end of the follow-up period averaged about $1,700 less in treated patients.

“Even after adjusting for demographic and clinical differences, results suggested that treated Alzheimer’s patients had lower all-cause health care costs and lower mortality rates compared to untreated patients,” Mr. Black said. “The arguments for early treatment are myriad, but this study shows greater survival and less all-cause health care costs among those receiving treatment for dementia. These results indicate that choosing not to treat, or even a delay in starting treatment, may lead to less favorable results. Early diagnosis and time to treatment should be a priority for policymakers, physicians and the public.”

msullivan@frontlinemedcom.com

On Twitter @alz_gal

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