Background: To evaluate the impact of donepezil hydrochloride on the care burden on family members of patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD). At present, donepezil is the only drug approved for the treatment of AD in Japan. Although the care burden on primary caregivers of AD patients comprises both physical and psychological burdens and donepezil is recognized to improve cognitive dysfunction and associated symptoms, there are few data on the effects of the drug on the care burden.
Methods: Of the uninstitutionalized AD patients who visited a dementia clinic between June 2008 and May 2009 with their primary family caregivers, 416 subjects who satisfied the enrollment criteria were registered for the study. All participants provided informed consent. Assessment included changes in scores on the Japanese version of the Zarit Caregiver Burden Interview (J-ZBI) and the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), as well as the presence of behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD). Caregivers answered the questionnaires at baseline and after 12 weeks treatment with donepezil (starting dose 3 mg, p.o., once daily, followed by 5 mg after 1 or 2 weeks).
Results: There were significant changes in mean scores on the J-ZBI (−1.9 ± 9.5; P < 0.01) and MMSE (+0.9 ± 2.9; P < 0.01) from baseline to Week 12, without significant correlation between these two scores. In patients with BPSD, there was a significant decrease in J-ZBI scores over the 12 weeks (P = 0.013); in contrast, in patients without BPSD, the decrease in the J-ZBI score did not reach statistical significance (P = 0.418).
Conclusions: The results indicate that donepezil improves cognitive function and some of the BPSD. As a possible consequence of improvements in BPSD, donepezil may also reduce caregivers' burden.