The decision to try medicine to treat behavior problems in
Alzheimer's disease is different for each person. The decision weighs the risks
and benefits of these medicines. Your doctor can help you decide. Medicines for
behavior problems linked to dementia do not work very well for most people and may have serious risks.
Medicines can be used to treat
behavior problems caused by
Alzheimer's disease and other diseases that cause
dementia. They should be used only after other nondrug
approaches have failed to improve a person's symptoms. Medicine may be needed
when the person is in danger of harming himself or herself or others or when
the caregiver is unable to deal with the situation using other means.
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Antipsychotic medicines may help relieve more
severe agitation or psychosis (disordered thought processes).
Low doses may make the person more comfortable by
reducing certain symptoms, such as delusions, suspicion of others (paranoia),
hallucinations, hostility, or agitation.
These medicines also may
The side effects may make some symptoms of
Alzheimer's disease worse, such as apathy, withdrawal from family and friends,
and inability to think clearly.
These are powerful medicines. They
commonly cause dizziness, drowsiness, movement disorders that resemble
Parkinson's disease, low blood pressure upon standing (orthostatic
hypotension), and other side effects.
Examples of medicines sometimes used to treat hallucinations,
paranoia, and severe agitation in people who have dementia include aripiprazole, haloperidol, and risperidone.
FDA advisory. The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) has issued an
advisory stating that people with dementia who use antipsychotics may
die sooner than those who don't use these drugs.
Antianxiety medicines, including minor
tranquilizers, relieve anxiety and mild agitation and may help calm the person.
But they can cause drowsiness if the dose is too high. When minor tranquilizers
are needed, short-term or occasional use often is better than continuous
Lorazepam and oxazepam are minor tranquilizers
sometimes used to treat the symptoms of dementia. Another antianxiety medicine called
buspirone also can be tried.
These medicines may increase confusion and upset
the person's balance. This raises the risk of falls.
A person may
become dependent on these medicines over time, causing even worse symptoms when
he or she suddenly stops taking them. To avoid this problem, these drugs
usually are stopped gradually after a few weeks of use.