Medications Used to Treat Alzheimer's

Early-stage Alzheimer's medications

Though Alzheimer's is a disease without a cure, several drug treatments have been approved by the FDA to treat its effects. The drugs commonly used to treat Alzheimer's disease fall into two types: those for memory and cognition, and those for symptoms and related conditions. Treatment varies according to the stage of disease a person is in.

Early-stage memory-cognition drugs

Many patients in early-stage Alzheimer's are prescribed one of three cholinesterase inhibitors, a type of drug that helps to preserve levels of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger in the brain that is important for memory and learning but is in low supply in people with Alzheimer's. The drugs are:

  • Aricept (donepezil)
  • Exelon (rivastigmine)
  • Razadyne (galantamine)

The medications work to improve mental function by blocking the enzyme cholinesterase, which normally removes excess acetylcholine from the brain. They help stabilize mental function and delay declines, especially for those whose symptoms are still mild. Each drug varies slightly in its chemistry and has different side effects. So sometimes if one isn't well tolerated, another is prescribed.

A fourth cholinesterase inhibitor, Cognex (tacrine hydrochloride), was prescribed in the past but is no longer recommended because it can cause liver damage.

Other early-stage medications

A patient with early-stage Alzheimer's could also be treated with an antidepressant if found to have depression. Depression and dementia often go hand in hand.

SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

Middle- and late-stage Alzheimer's medications

Middle stage Alzheimer's medications

Memory-cognition drugs

In addition to one of the cholinesterase inhibitors described above, people with middle-stage Alzheimer's may also be prescribed a second drug, Namenda (memantine). (Some people are given Namenda in the early stage of the disease, but it is only FDA-approved for middle- to late-stage Alzheimer's.) Namenda belongs to a different class of drug that works on glutamate, a chemical messenger in the brain that affects learning and long-term memory. Like the cholinesterase inhibitors, it slows the decline of thinking ability and the ability to perform everyday functions. At the middle stage of disease, decline is often more rapid than in the early stage.

Other middle-stage medications

These medications may be prescribed to deal with related problems that can develop by this stage of Alzheimer's:

  • Disturbed sleep: Sedative-hynotics ("sleep meds")

  • Depression: Antidepressants

  • Behavioral issues (aggression, hallucinations, agitation): Antipsychotics

    SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

Nondrug approaches are usually tried first (or simultaneously) to deal with these problems. The specific drug prescribed will depend on the person's complete medical history.

Late stage Alzheimer's medications

Memory-cognition drugs

The only cholinesterase inhibitor approved for all stages of Alzheimer's is Aricept. Namenda is the only medication approved specifically for middle- to late-stage Alzheimer's. Typically a patient is on one or both of these medications by this stage.

Other late-stage medications

Other medications may be prescribed to deal with related problems that commonly develop by this stage of Alzheimer's:

  • Disturbed sleep: Sedative-hynotics ("sleep meds")

  • Depression: Antidepressants

    SEE ALSO: Find Memory Care Near You

  • Behavioral issues (aggression, hallucinations, agitation): Antipsychotics

Nondrug approaches are usually tried first (or simultaneously) to deal with these problems. The specific drug prescribed will depend on the person's complete medical history.

For details on dosages for memory drugs, see the National Institute on Aging's Alzheimer's Disease Medications Fact Sheet.

almost 3 years ago, said...

Sorry, my sentence didn't come out correctly, it should have been "And my hats off to anybody taking care of someone with the condition." Sorry, my sentence didn't come out correctly, it should have been "And my hats off to anybody taking care of someone with the condition." Hide

almost 3 years ago, said...

Alzheimer's sounds so horrible. And my hats off to anybody dealing with anybody taking care of someone with the condition. It must be incredibly stressful and isolating. Have you seen the CNN special "Weeds"? They talk about a chemical in marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD). It worked wonders for the "impossible to treat" epilepsy of a young girl, and has done the same for my epilepsy. It shows a great deal of promise when it comes to treating Alzheimer's. For more info you can go to this... Show more Alzheimer's sounds so horrible. And my hats off to anybody dealing with anybody taking care of someone with the condition. It must be incredibly stressful and isolating. Have you seen the CNN special "Weeds"? They talk about a chemical in marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD). It worked wonders for the "impossible to treat" epilepsy of a young girl, and has done the same for my epilepsy. It shows a great deal of promise when it comes to treating Alzheimer's. For more info you can go to this info page (it's not a commercial page, doesn't offer anything for sale.) http://www.projectcbd.org/home-2/alzheimers/ Hide

almost 3 years ago, said...

We are about six years in with my wife's AD, depending on how you measure it. she is somewhere, perhaps toward the end of the mid stage. Her medication is a cocktail of Aricept once a day, Namenda twice a day and Seroquel three times a day. She seems to have had a number of plateaus with the cognitive issues and then just gets worse as this horrid disease "progresses". On the Seroquel, I am not so sure. Much data out there says that Seroquel is NOT recommended for AD. My wife continues... Show more We are about six years in with my wife's AD, depending on how you measure it. she is somewhere, perhaps toward the end of the mid stage. Her medication is a cocktail of Aricept once a day, Namenda twice a day and Seroquel three times a day. She seems to have had a number of plateaus with the cognitive issues and then just gets worse as this horrid disease "progresses". On the Seroquel, I am not so sure. Much data out there says that Seroquel is NOT recommended for AD. My wife continues to display belligerent, aggressive and abusive behavior toward me on an almost daily basis. I am consulting with her neurologist tomorrow hopefully....getting to my wits end. Hide

over 4 years ago, said...

My husband is taking Aricept and Namenda and attavan and they are helping him tremendously. My husband is taking Aricept and Namenda and attavan and they are helping him tremendously. Hide

about 5 years ago, said...

Thankful, very helpful Thankful, very helpful Hide

almost 6 years ago, said...

my husband takes abilify with namenda ,i see on tv tht abilifiy is not recommmenda for alz my husband takes abilify with namenda ,i see on tv tht abilifiy is not recommmenda for alz Hide

over 6 years ago, said...

I HAVE TWO FRIENDS WHO'S WIVES HAVE THE FIRST STAGE OF ALZHIEMER'S. IDO NOT KNOW IF THE HAVE AN E-MAIL ADDRESS.I AM PRINTING A FEW OF THESE ARTICLES,SO THAT I MAY HELP THEM THROUGH SUPPORT. MY WIFE PASSED AWAY IN AUGUST OF 05 ,THE DAY KATRINA CAME ASHORE. SHE WAS DIGNOISED IN 2001. I RIED TO CARE FOR HER AND FINALLY HAD TO PLACE HER IN REST HOME IN APRIL OF 2002. IT TAKES A TOTALLY COMITTED PERSON TO HOME CARE SOME ONE IN THE CONDITION. I HAVE TWO FRIENDS WHO'S WIVES HAVE THE FIRST STAGE OF ALZHIEMER'S. IDO NOT KNOW IF THE HAVE AN E-MAIL ADDRESS.I AM PRINTING A FEW OF THESE ARTICLES,SO THAT I MAY HELP THEM THROUGH SUPPORT. MY WIFE PASSED AWAY IN AUGUST OF 05 ,THE DAY KATRINA CAME ASHORE. SHE WAS DIGNOISED IN 2001. I RIED TO CARE FOR HER AND FINALLY HAD TO PLACE HER IN REST HOME IN APRIL OF 2002. IT TAKES A TOTALLY COMITTED PERSON TO HOME CARE SOME ONE IN THE CONDITION. Hide

almost 7 years ago, said...

Re Meds: My husband was put on Aricept for dementia which has now been diagnosed as Alzheimer's. He feels that it definitely opened up certain channels of his brain which were previously "blocked up." This is in respect to doing mechanical things around the house. At this point, over a year later, I do not believe that it is doing him much good, but as long as HE believes it is, then we have to accept that it is. Re Meds: My husband was put on Aricept for dementia which has now been diagnosed as Alzheimer's. He feels that it definitely opened up certain channels of his brain which were previously "blocked up." This is in respect to doing mechanical things around the house. At this point, over a year later, I do not believe that it is doing him much good, but as long as HE believes it is, then we have to accept that it is. Hide

almost 7 years ago, said...

My wife has been on Aricept for 7 months and I have noticed a DEFINITE improvement in attitde, memory and general all around life enjoyment. It took awhile to kick in so patience is required. My wife has been on Aricept for 7 months and I have noticed a DEFINITE improvement in attitde, memory and general all around life enjoyment. It took awhile to kick in so patience is required. Hide

almost 7 years ago, said...

I think Alzheimers drugs are a waste of time. They do nothing to the disease and are costly. Not only that, my sister-in-law was refused long term care insurance because she had been taking Aricept. There is no cure for Alzheimers. The drugs didn't even seem to slow the disease in my sister-in-law/ Don't waste your time on drugs that offer false hopes. I think Alzheimers drugs are a waste of time. They do nothing to the disease and are costly. Not only that, my sister-in-law was refused long term care insurance because she had been taking Aricept. There is no cure for Alzheimers. The drugs didn't even seem to slow the disease in my sister-in-law/ Don't waste your time on drugs that offer false hopes. Hide

almost 7 years ago, said...

As long as you are doing the right thing don't worry about what anyone else thinks. BELIEVE in yourself, remember that your mom is not well and you are doing everything to help her but can't fix this disease-- with explainations to her. IF anyone takes the time they too will realize what is going on. Your sister should talk to your mom's doctor to get an understanding of your mom's condition, if she doesn't want to listen to you. Possible that your sister may feel guilty that she is unable... Show more As long as you are doing the right thing don't worry about what anyone else thinks. BELIEVE in yourself, remember that your mom is not well and you are doing everything to help her but can't fix this disease-- with explainations to her. IF anyone takes the time they too will realize what is going on. Your sister should talk to your mom's doctor to get an understanding of your mom's condition, if she doesn't want to listen to you. Possible that your sister may feel guilty that she is unable to help care for your/ her mom and it's easier to be mad at you because it helps alleviate guilt. Most important is for you to do the right thing,believe in yourself and do not worry about anyone else. I know dealing with a parent that has Alzheimers is so difficult, it is a time when you want the support of everyone particulary your sibling, but it doesn't always work that way. Hide

almost 7 years ago, said...

My mother has been diagnosed with alzhiemer disease for about a year now although now I think she has been showing symptoms of this disease for about five years or more. She thinks people are stealing from her and if anything happens or she cannot find something she automatically accuses me. I live with her by choice to keep her home and I am one of two siblings but my sister does not live in this state in fact she is far away and there is only me to take care of her. I get very frustrated... Show more My mother has been diagnosed with alzhiemer disease for about a year now although now I think she has been showing symptoms of this disease for about five years or more. She thinks people are stealing from her and if anything happens or she cannot find something she automatically accuses me. I live with her by choice to keep her home and I am one of two siblings but my sister does not live in this state in fact she is far away and there is only me to take care of her. I get very frustrated with her because I hear her on the phone telling people what I took from her or what I have done and it is completely a lie. My sister and I are not on speaking terms because of this and mom is the culprit. What can I do? Hide