Drugs that Can Treat Alzheimer Disease

Many people believe that Alzheimer disease can't be treated. The truth is that drugs are available that may help slow the progression of symptoms. These drugs don’t work for everyone. But, they do offer some hope for the more than 5 million people who have Alzheimer disease.

The FDA has approved 5 drugs to treat Alzheimer disease. All the drugs may help temporarily stop some of the disease’s symptoms from getting worse. These include confusion and forgetfulness.

In addition to memory loss and confusion, Alzheimer disease can make speech and mood swings worse. In the later stages, the disease destroys a person’s personality and ability to think and function. In some people, Alzheimer disease worsens quickly. In others, it proceeds slowly.

How the drugs might help symptoms

Just as the course of Alzheimer disease isn’t clear, neither is treatment. Existing drugs may slow the progression of Alzheimer disease in some people. The drugs are most useful when a person starts taking them as early as possible. It takes two to six weeks before any results appear.

These three drugs are used to treat the disease in its early to middle stages:

  • Galantamine (Razadyne)

  • Rivastigmine (Exelon)

  • Tacrine (Cognex)

A drug that can be used for all stages is called Donepezil (Aricept). Another drug, memantine (Namenda), is the only drug approved by the FDA for the later, more severe stages of Alzheimer disease. It can be taken alone or with another drug.

Side effects to consider

Certain side effects may put off people from using drugs for Alzheimer disease. For example, tacrine may cause liver damage. Donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine can cause nausea and vomiting. Memantine may cause dizziness and headache.

Using these drugs properly may improve the patient’s quality of life. It will also help the person’s caregivers as well. Ask your health care provider for more information.