Alzheimer’s drug stirs hope for patients, worry for doctors

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In the weeks since a new Alzheimer’s drug was approved, hopeful patients have bombarded Dr. Alireza Atri with calls and emails about a treatment that has sparked both excitement and skepticism.

They want to know if the drug might be right for them. Like many physicians, Atri has no easy answers.

“It’s not a simple yes or no,” said the neurologist at the Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Arizona.

It probably won’t be for a while. Doctors across the country are still trying to figure out who should receive the drug called Aduhelm, which, at best, slows the fatal disease marginally. Other drugs for Alzheimer’s disease only temporarily ease symptoms like memory problems, insomnia and depression.

While some clinics have already started giving the drug, many providers say it will take weeks or months before they are ready. Insurers — including the biggest bill payer for this drug, Medicare — still need to determine which patients to cover for a treatment that could cost more than $50,000 a year. And doctors worry that emotions will affect decisions by patients and families in seeking the drug.

“People are desperate. It’s a really horrible disease,” said Stanford University’s Dr. Michael Greicius.

Karl Newkirk hopes to start taking Aduhelm if his doctor gives the OK because he doesn’t see any other treatments worth trying.

“It looks like the only star in the sky,” said the 80-year-old Sarasota, Florida, resident, who has early-stage Alzheimer’s.

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