How do medications treat dementia?

Medications are not always effective in treating dementia, but in some cases, they may be able to improve brain function or slow progression of the disorder. Drugs known as cholinesterase inhibitors can improve neurological function by increasing levels of acetylcholine in your brain. However, they won't slow down the progression of your dementia. That's where memantine comes in. It controls a different neurotransmitter called glutamate and can actually slow the progression of dementia in some cases. Cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine may be even more effective when used together. Other medications can also be used to treat the cause of your dementia if it is known, and if you are experiencing behavioral problems, anticonvulsants, antipsychotic drugs, and antidepressants may help as well.

Steven A. Meyers, MD
Diagnostic Radiology

Most forms of dementia do not have specific treatments. There are 2 classes of medication used to improve memory in persons with dementia. First, cholinesterase inhibitors block an enzyme that breaks down the brain chemical acetylcholine resulting in increased levels of the chemical in the brain. Memantine works by blocking what are known as NMDA receptors. Blocking this enzyme can also improve cognitive function and may slow the progression of the disease.

Behavioral problems in demented persons such as depression, anxiety, or agitation may be treated with antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or tranquilizers.

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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.