Many people believe that Alzheimer's disease (AD) can't be treated. The truth is that medications are available that may help treat symptoms. Although these drugs don't work for everyone, they offer some hope for the more than 5 million people who have AD.
There are four FDA-approved drugs available to treat symptoms due to Alzheimer's disease. While the drugs may modestly improve memory and reduce confusion, they are not curative and are unable to stop the disease from worsening over time. The drugs are most effective when a person takes them in the mild to moderate stages of the disease. It may take two to six weeks before any results appear.
Three drugs used to treat AD are all in one family, called cholinesterase inhibitors, which boost brain levels of acetylcholine:
- Galantamine (Razadyne®)
- Rivastigmine (Exelon®)
- Aricept® (Donepezil)
Another drug, memantine (Namenda®), is the only drug approved by the FDA for moderate to severe stages of AD. It can be taken alone or with a cholinesterase inhibitor.
Certain side effects may prevent people from using medication for AD. Donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine can cause nausea and vomiting. Memantine may cause dizziness and headache.