Dementia is a condition of mental decline that causes progressive memory impairment and problems with learning, judgment, communication, and quality of life. Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disorder, is the most common form of dementia. While there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease and no treatment to reverse or halt its progression, there are medicines available that can help treat symptoms in some people with Alzheimer's disease. If Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed early, it can be managed at home. Health care providers may also use other medicines to help manage other troubling symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, including depression, sleeplessness, and behavioral problems such as agitation and aggression.
Planning and medical/social management can help ease the burden on both patients and family members. Exercise, good nutrition, activities, and social interaction are important. A calm, structured environment also may help the person with Alzheimer's disease to continue functioning as independently as possible.
Unfortunately, getting an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis is not simple. Your doctor can’t check for the disease by doing a quick blood test. That’s because signs of Alzheimer’s disease don't appear in your blood. Instead, Alzheimer’s disease is the result of a problem inside your brain.
The only way to be 100% certain a person suffers from Alzheimer’s disease is to examine samples of brain tissue. This can only be done during an autopsy, after a person has died.
Your doctor will determine the best treatment for an Alzheimer's case based on various factors, including:
The patient’s age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the disease
The patient’s tolerance for specific medicines and therapies
Expectations for the course of the disease
The patient and his or her caregiver’s opinions or preferences
What Drugs Are Used to Treat Alzheimer's Disease?
Cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne). Cholinesterase inhibitors curb the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain important for memory and learning. These types of medications help increase the levels of acetylcholine in the brain. These drugs may slow the progression of symptoms for about half of people taking them for a limited time, on average 6 to 12 months.
Aricept is the only treatment approved by the FDA for all stages of Alzheimer’s disease: mild, moderate, and severe. It is available as tablets to swallow or tablets to dissolve in the mouth. Exelon is approved for use in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia and is available as a skin patch, capsules, and liquid form. Razadyne (formerly Reminyl) is also approved for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia and is available as an extended-release capsule, immediate-release tablet, and liquid forms. Common side effects are usually mild for these medications and include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
Namenda. Namenda is approved to treat moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's disease. Namenda works by a different mechanism than other Alzheimer's treatments; it is thought to play a protective role in the brain by regulating the activity of a different brain chemical called glutamate. Glutamate also plays a role in learning and memory. Brain cells in people with Alzheimer’s disease release too much glutamate. Namenda helps regulate glutamate activity. Namenda is the only drug for Alzheimer’s that works this way. It may improve mental function and performance of daily activities for some people. Namenda may have more benefit when used with Aricept, Exelon, or Razadyne. Side effects of Namenda include tiredness, dizziness, confusion, constipation, and headache.