Alzheimer's Disease Treatment
Scientists believe that multi-prong approaches that include medication and lifestyle strategies offers the best outcomes for people with Alzhei...

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Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a complex disease. It doesn't conform to one-size-fits-all treatments. Scientists believe a multi-prong approach, which uses different medications, can help most people. Here is a summary of the current AD medications.

Current Medication Options

The FDA ha approved four AD medications. However, they don't affect everyone in the same way, and the benefits can diminish over time.

The four medications (with some brand name examples) are:

  • donepezil (Aricept)
    • for mild, moderate, and severe AD symptoms
    • Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • galantamine (Razadyne)
    • for mild and moderate AD symptoms
    • common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and loss of appetite
  • memantine (Namenda)
    • for moderate and severe AD symptoms, but not for mild AD symptoms (as currently, there's little evidence of benefit in the early-stages of AD)
    • common side effects include dizziness, headache, constipation, and confusion
  • rivastigmine (Exelon)
    • for mild and moderate AD symptoms
    • common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, and muscle weakness

How Do These Medications Work?

These medications control the chemicals that transmit messages between neurons called "neurotransmitters." This helps to maintain thinking and memory, and manage some behavioral problems.

Which Medication is Best?

No published study has compared the four drugs. However they appear to work in similar ways. For example, they all affect the level of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Switching from one medication to another will not produce different results.

What About Non AD-Specific Medications?

Some medications can temporarily treat, or at least ease, AD symptoms. These include antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, sleep aids, and antipsychotics. They help with sleeplessness, agitation, anxiety, anger, severe aggression, wandering, and depression.

It is essential to consult an experienced AD doctor in order to receive the maximum benefit from medication. 

Written by: Wendy Leonard, MPH
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: Jennifer Monti, MPH, MD
Published: May 11, 2011
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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