At this time, there are no medicines that
can prevent or cure
Alzheimer's disease or that will restore normal mental
abilities. Medicine may help some people function better by temporarily
reducing memory loss and thinking problems. Other medicines may be needed to
treat associated conditions, such as
Improving memory and daily functioning
include donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne), and rivastigmine (Exelon).
These medicines, called cholinesterase inhibitors, have been approved
specifically for treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Research suggested that
people with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease who took cholinesterase
inhibitors experienced improvement in thinking and daily functioning when they
added memantine (Namenda) to their treatment.7
All these medicines may temporarily help improve memory and daily
functioning in some people who have Alzheimer's disease. The improvement varies
from person to person. These medicines do not prevent the disease from getting
worse, although they may slow down symptoms of mental decline.
decision about using medicines to treat failing mental function usually is not
whether to try a medicine but when to begin and, later, when to stop treatment.
Medicine treatment can be started as soon as Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed.
But the person may or may not significantly improve when taking medicines,
because they do not work for everyone. If the medicines are effective, they are
continued until the side effects outweigh the benefits or until the person no
longer responds to the medicines. For more information, see:
- Alzheimer's Disease: Should I Take Medicines?
Treating behavior problems
Sometimes, medicine may
be used to manage behaviors or symptoms that are causing strain for the person
who has Alzheimer's disease and/or for his or her caregivers. Medicines generally are
used only when other treatments have failed. For example, if the person still
has trouble sleeping after trying regular exercise and avoiding naps, a
medicine may be needed.
When it comes to disruptive behaviors,
caregivers are encouraged to try to understand the reasons for the behaviors
and to find other ways to manage them whenever possible. Distracting the
person, avoiding situations that seem to cause the behavior, and using good
communication often can help limit these behaviors.
approaches to managing behaviors should always be tried first, medicines such
as tranquilizers may be needed if:
- A behavior is severely disruptive or harmful
to the person or to others.
- Efforts to manage or reduce disruptive
behavior by making changes in the person's environment or routines have
- The behavior is making the situation intolerable for the
- The person has trouble telling the difference between
what is and is not real (psychosis) in addition to
dementia. Psychosis causes the person to have false
beliefs (delusions) and to hear or see things that are not