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6 FDA-Approved Medications for Alzheimer’s Treatment

FDA-approved medications for Alzheimer’s treatment help reduce cognitive & behavioral symptoms

Note: This article hasn’t yet been updated to include the recently FDA-approved medications Aduhelm (aducanumab) and Leqembi (lecanemab-irmb).

Alzheimer’s medication options

Even though a cure hasn’t been discovered yet, there are six FDA-approved medications for Alzheimer’s that could help with cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that causes a slow, continual decline in memory, thinking, and other cognitive functions. 

Understanding the available treatments can help seniors and family caregivers cope with symptoms and improve quality of life. 

We explain what medications for Alzheimer’s can and can’t do, scams to watch out for, which drugs are used in which stages of the disease, and when medication should be stopped.


What Alzheimer’s medications can and can’t do

Currently, there are five FDA-approved drugs that may help delay, lessen, or stabilize Alzheimer’s symptoms like memory loss and confusion. 

In addition, there’s one drug that’s FDA-approved for treating insomnia in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

These medications can improve quality of life for both the person with Alzheimer’s and the families caring for them.

The effects are usually subtle, so it can be tough to know for sure how much of a difference an Alzheimer’s drug makes. However, symptoms could be worse without the medication.

Beware of scam drugs!

It’s important to know that there aren’t any current medications that can cure Alzheimer’s or stop it from progressing.

Beware of untested or unproven “cures” that claim to make the brain sharper, prevent dementia, or cure Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Check with your older adult’s doctor before trying any pills, supplements, or other products that claim to improve memory or cure brain disorders.

These so-called treatments might be unsafe, a waste of money, or both. Even worse, they might interfere with other medical treatments.

Medications for Alzheimer’s: early to moderate stages

In the early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s, a class of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors are used.

These drugs treat symptoms related to memory, thinking, language, judgment, and other cognitive processes.

They might also help delay symptoms or slow them from worsening (for a limited time) and may help control some behavioral symptoms. However, they don’t always work for everyone.

3 commonly prescribed cholinesterase inhibitors:

  1. Aricept (donepezil) is approved for all stages of Alzheimer’s

  2. Exelon (rivastigmine) is approved for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s

  3. Razadyne (galantamine) is approved for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s

Side effects include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and increased frequency of bowel movements.

Cholinesterase inhibitors work by affecting certain chemicals that carry messages among the brain’s nerve cells. As the disease progresses, less of that chemical is produced.

That’s why these medications become less effective over time.


Medications for Alzheimer’s: moderate to severe stages

In the moderate to severe stages of Alzheimer’s, Namenda (memantine) is the primary drug prescribed.

It can improve memory, attention, reason, language, and the ability to perform simple tasks.

Namenda can be used alone or with other Alzheimer’s disease treatments.

People with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s might also benefit from taking both Namenda and a cholinesterase inhibitor (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne).

3 commonly prescribed drugs at this stage:

  1. Namenda (memantine) is approved for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s

  2. Aricept (donepezil) is approved for all stages of Alzheimer’s

  3. Namzaric (a combination of Namenda and Aricept)

Namenda regulates the activity of glutamate, a chemical involved in information processing, storage, and retrieval.

It can cause side effects including headache, constipation, confusion, and dizziness

Medications for Alzheimer’s: insomnia

Alzheimer’s often causes changes in sleep patterns, resulting in insomnia. 

Chronic insomnia can significantly decrease quality of life for both the person with Alzheimer’s and their families.

Belsomra (suvorexant) is currently FDA-approved to treat insomnia in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Side effects include impaired alertness and coordination, worsening of depression or suicidal thinking, complex sleep behaviors, sleep paralysis, or compromised respiratory function.

Why and when to stop Alzheimer’s treatments

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, so your older adult’s symptoms and care needs will change over time. The drugs will also become less effective over time.

When the doctor starts them on an Alzheimer’s drug, they should include a plan for when the medication should be discontinued.

But if your older adult stops taking an Alzheimer’s drug and you notice a sharp decline in their condition, contact their doctor right away. They may want to restart the medication.

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team

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