How effective are Aricept and Namenda for slowing Alzheimer's disease?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My wife has been taking both Aricept and Namenda for more than a year, and her mood swings and aggressive behavior have not lessened. How effec.tive are these medications in delaying the onset of Alzheimer's/Dementia? she will be 83 years old in July: her mother died of A/D at 90 after 10 yrs of moving from increasingly restrictive board and care

Expert Answer

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

Most of us feel helpless as we watch the gradual cognitive decline of our loved ones. It's a natural inclination to reach for any remedy that promises some relief. Before you decide to resort to pharmaceuticals, you can take advantage of the numerous ideas for innovative approaches to caregiving on this and other websites.

Well-meaning physicians will routinely prescribe either Exelon (Rivastigmine) or Aricept (Donepezil), often in combination of Namenda (Memantine.) Less frequently used is Reminyl (galantamine.) None of these medications bring back lost memory, but they do seem to help some people refocus. Of course, as with all medications that may have positive effects, they may also have serious side-effects. In the case of Alzheimer's medications, they are not recommended for people with some heart and circulatory conditions. People with low body weight are particularly at risk.

Even at best, they may only work for a percentage of patients. One of the most popular drugs, Aricept, has only a 30% success rate and then minimal improvement in those cases. I have seen good results for some people and with others there have been very few improvements and yet others, some nasty side effects. In April, 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently chastised Pfizer for two of their television commercials for Aricept, the most popular medication for Alzheimer's Disease, as "misleading," "deceptive," and "not supported by the available research data."

I recommend that you do your independent research before considering these or any other elective medications. A good place to start is the website for short and clear charts of test results and efficacy of the Alzheimer's drugs currently available.