Are there treatments available for Alzheimer’s disease?

Yes, while there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease as yet, there are medications that can help control its symptoms and to help manage conditions such as agitation, depression, or psychosis (hallucinations or delusions), which may occur as the disease progresses:

Cholinesterase Inhibitors

People with Alzheimer's disease have low levels of a key nerve messenger, called acetylcholine, believed to be important for memory and thinking. Four drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors make more of that messenger available by slowing its breakdown, enabling greater cell-to-cell communication and slowing the progress of cognitive impairment in some patients with early- to middle-stage Alzheimer's disease. The four cholinesterase inhibitors are:

  • Razadyne® (galantamine)
  • Exelon® (rivastigmine)
  • Aricept® (donepezil)
  • Cognex® (tacrine)

All four have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for early- to middle-state Alzheimer's disease; Aricept is also approved for severe-stage symptoms. Cognex was the first approved cholinesterase inhibitor but is rarely prescribed today due to safety concerns.

Namenda® (memantine)

The first FDA-approved drug for moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease, Namenda is thought to protect brain cells by regulating a nerve communication chemical, called glutamate, that is released in great quantities by Alzheimer's-damaged cells. Glutamate is normally involved with learning and memory, but when released in excess by damaged cells, it attaches to “docking sites” called NMDA receptors that in turn accelerate cell damage. 

Combination Drugs

Namzaric® is a combination of two drugs mentioned above: memantine (Namenda) and donepezil (Aricept). Namzaric capsules can be opened to allow the contents to be sprinkled on food to facilitate dosing for patients who may have difficulty swallowing.

Treatment for Mental Illnesses

People with the later stages of Alzheimer's disease often experience depression, agitation, paranoia, delusions, and/or hallucinations, which can in turn cause screaming, repetitive questions, hoarding, pacing, hyperactivity, and aggressive behavior.

These symptoms can arise from non-medical triggers as well as medical causes. The former could take the form of a change in the person's environment (a new place to live, a new caretaker, a change in routine) or from frustration at the inability to communicate. If the trigger can be identified, the environment can be modified to change the behavior.

If non-medical intervention doesn't work, or the patient becomes a danger to himself or others, a physician should be asked to evaluate the need for medical treatment.

See our factsheets on Treatments for Alzheimer's Disease to learn how these drugs work and some common side effects and Financial Aid for Alzheimer's Disease Prescription Drugs to see if you qualify for financial assistance to pay for your medications.

Remember: Always consult a physician before taking any medications.

Disease:
Disease Stage:
Treatment
Topic:
Behavior, Drugs & Medication, Signs and Symptoms

The information provided in this section is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional, and is not intended to constitute medical advice. Although we take efforts to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the information on our website reflects the most up-to-date research. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice; all medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

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