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Some of the 29,000 Mainers with Alzheimer's disease could soon have a new treatment option

David Duprey
AP file
This Oct. 7, 2003 file photo shows a closeup of a human brain affected by Alzheimer's disease, on display at the Museum of Neuroanatomy at the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, N.Y. On Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, U.S. health officials approved Leqembi, a new Alzheimer’s drug that modestly slows the brain-robbing disease. The Food and Drug Administration granted the approval Friday for patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug for Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Cliff Singer, director of geriatrics at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor, says study results for Leqembi are much more promising than the results of a similar controversial drug, aducanumab, approved in 2021.

He says what makes Leqembi different from other treatments is that it addresses the underlying cause of Alzheimer's instead of the symptoms.

"They do produce significant slowing of disease progression, so people maintain function longer, or the decline in function that they experience is lower than they would decline without treatment at all," Singer says.

The drug is approved for people in early stages of Alzheimer's with mild cognitive impairment. But Singer says there's also strong evidence that nondrug treatments can have a comparable effect staving off the effects of Alzheimer's, including a healthy diet, sleep, exercise and social engagement.

"This new drug is very exciting, it's going to have a big impact," he says. "But it doesn't negate the other effects of lifestyle and diet changes that also can be favorable in slowing the course of the disease."

Singer says the $2,000-a-month cost of Leqembi could be a barrier, because it's unclear whether Medicare will cover it.

Roughly 29,000 people in Maine have Alzheimer's.