Antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), may be effective in relieving depression, irritability, and restlessness associated with Alzheimer's in some patients.
Depression is often confused with apathy. An apathetic patient lacks emotions, motivation, interest, and enthusiasm while a depressed patient is generally very sad, tearful, and hopeless. Apathy may respond to stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), rather than antidepressants.
Antipsychotic drugs are used to treat verbally or physically aggressive behavior and hallucinations. Because older antipsychotic drugs, such as haloperidol (Haldol), have severe side effects, most doctors now prescribe newer atypical antipsychotics, such as risperidone (Risperdal) or olanzapine (Zyprexa).
However, these newer antipsychotic drugs still can cause serious side effects, including confusion, sleepiness, and Parkinsonian-like symptoms. In addition, studies indicate that their safety risks may outweigh any possible benefits. Studies indicate that both atypical and older antipsychotics produce a slightly increased rate of death in patients with Alzheimer's disease or dementia and that atypical antipsychotics work no better than placebo in controlling psychosis, aggression, and agitation in patients with Alzheimer's.
Most doctors recommend delaying prescribing antipsychotic medication unless absolutely necessary. They recommend first trying behavioral treatments and controlling changes in the patient's environment and routine. Anti-seizure drugs, such as carbamazepine (Tegretol) or valproate (Depakote), can also sometimes treat agitation and other psychotic symptoms.
Patients with Alzheimer's disease commonly experience disturbances in their sleep/wake cycles. Moderately short-acting sleeping drugs, such as temazepam (Restoril), zolpidem (Ambien), or zaleplon (Sonata), or sedating antidepressants, such as trazodone (Desyrel, Molipaxin), may be useful in managing insomnia. Some research suggests that exposure to brighter-than-normal artificial light during the day for patients with normal vision may help reset wake/sleep cycles and prevent nighttime wandering and sleeplessness. Sleep hygiene methods (regular times for meal and bed, exercise, avoiding caffeine) may also be helpful.