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How is Alzheimer's disease treated?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Currently, there are no medicines that can slow the progression of AD. However, four FDA-approved medications are used to treat symptoms of AD. These drugs help individuals carry out their daily activities by maintaining thinking, memory, or speaking skills. They can also help with some of the behavioral and personality changes associated with AD. However, they cannot stop or reverse AD and appear to help individuals for only a limited time. Donepezil (Aricept), Rivastigmine (Exelon), and Galantamine (Reminyl) are prescribed for mild to moderate AD symptoms. Donepezil was recently approved to treat severe AD as well. The newest AD medication, memantine (Namenda), has been prescribed for moderate to severe AD symptoms.

This information is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

While Alzheimer's disease has no cure, there are medications that can help if they are administered during the early stages of the disease.

Drugs also may be used to treat symptoms such as depression, insomnia and anxiety, which often accompany Alzheimer's disease.

Medications also can be used to against potential infections.

One class of Alzheimer's drug is called Cholinesterase inhibitors, which includes donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine. These drugs boost neurotransmitter levels. Memantine is only the approved drug for advanced Alzheimer's.

While there are no medical treatments that can reverse the effects of Alzheimer's disease or slow its progression, there are a handful of drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that can alleviate some of the cognitive and behavioral symptoms in the disease's early or moderate stages. Medications also are available for other symptoms associated with Alzheimer's, such as agitation, delusions and depression. It's important for a healthcare professional to discuss some of the side effects of these drugs with you or the person you know who has Alzheimer's.

A healthy lifestyle is important for optimal treatment of Alzheimer's. This includes a well-rounded diet, treatment of medical conditions, regular physical activity sustained over 30 minutes, social engagement and encouraging participation in daily activities to the extent possible with existing impairments.

Whenever possible, healthcare professionals usually recommend nondrug options first to treat behavior disturbance—such as changing the mood of the person's home environment, creating a routine and staying active and keeping socially engaged -- since some medications can contribute to increased problems with dementia.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.