Many people believe that Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can't be treated. The truth is that medications are available that may help slow the progression of symptoms. Although these drugs don’t work for everyone, they offer some hope for the more than 5 million people who have AD.
The FDA has approved five medications to treat Alzheimer’s disease. All the drugs may help prevent some AD symptoms, such as confusion and forgetfulness, from getting worse for a while.
In addition to memory loss and confusion, AD can cause worsening speech and mood swings. In the later stages, the disease destroys a person’s personality and ability to think and function. In some people, AD worsens quickly. In others, it progresses slowly.
Just as the course of AD isn’t clear, neither is treatment. Existing drugs may slow the progression of AD in 10 to 20 percent of people who take them. The drugs are most effective when a person begins taking them as early as possible. It takes two to six weeks before any results appear.
These three drugs are used to treat AD in its early to middle stages:
A medication 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 AD. It can be taken alone or with another drug.
Certain side effects may prevent people from using medication for AD. For example, tacrine may cause liver damage. Donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine can cause nausea and vomiting. Memantine may cause dizziness and headache.