Alzheimer’s Disease Medications

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, and no treatment to stop its progression, there are a few medications that can help treat some of the symptoms in those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

There are two types of medications have been approved by the FDA to treat Alzheimer’s effect upon cognitive behavior. Cognitive behavior includes memory loss, confusion, and problems with thinking and reasoning.  These medications work by effecting the chemicals that carry messages between the nerve cells in the brain.

Medications that treat Alzheimer’s effect on cognitive behavior:

  1. Cholinesterase (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne, Cognex) – Cholinesterase is a medication that supports communication in the brain by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine.  Acetylcholine effects learning and memory.  While Cholinesterase does not cure Alzheimer’s disease, about 50% of individuals who take it delay symptoms for 6-12 months.Three cholinesterase inhibitors are commonly prescribed:
    • Donepezil (Aricept) is approved to treat all stages of Alzheimer’s.
    • Rivastigmine (Exelon) is approved to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
    • Galantamine (Razadyne) is approved to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.
  2. Memantine (Namenda) – Memantine is thought to work by regulating the activity of glutamate, another brain chemical involved in learning and memory.
  3. Vitamin E – Some doctors also prescribe high doses of vitamin E for cognitive changes of Alzheimer’s disease.  Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may protect brain cells and other body tissues from certain kinds of chemical wear and tear.  However, it should be noted that no one should take vitamin E to treat Alzheimer’s disease except under the close supervision of a physician. High doses of Vitamin E (as prescribed for Alzheimer’s) can negatively interact with other medications.

Medications that treat Alzheimer’s effect on behavioral symptoms:

In addition to Alzheimer’s impact on memory and general thought processes, Alzheimer’s disease also affects the way an individual feels and behaves.  This change in behavior is due to the progressive destruction of brain cells.  The type of behavior caused by the destruction of brain cells include physical or verbal outburst, emotional distress, hallucination and delusions, to name a few.

Listed below are some medications commonly used to treat the behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. Antidepressants – common medications that are prescribed to treat mood and irritability issues include antidepressants such as:  citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxeine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), trazodone (Desyrel).
  2. Anxiolytics – common medications that are prescribed to treat anxiety, restlessness, and verbally disruptive behavior include lorazepam (Ativan) and oxazepam (Serax).
  3. Antipsychotics – common medications that are prescribed to treat hallucinations, delusions, hostility, aggression, etc. include antipsychotics such as aripiprazole (Abilify), clozapine (Clozaril), haloperidol (Haldol), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel), resperidone (Risperdal) and ziprasidone (Geodone).