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Alzheimer's Drugs (Medications)

Posted Aug 02 2010 5:10pm
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Only two types of medications have been proved to slow the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer's.



Cholinesterase inhibitors

Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors are prescribed for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. These drugs may help delay or prevent symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time and may help control some behavioral symptoms.

This group of medications which includes
  • Aricept (donepezil)
  • Exelon (rivastigmine>
  • and Razadyne(galantamine)
works by improving the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain.

Scientists do not yet fully understand how cholinesterase inhibitors work to treat Alzheimer’s disease, but research indicates that they prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a brain chemical believed to be important for memory and thinking. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the brain produces less and less acetylcholine; therefore, cholinesterase inhibitors may eventually lose their effect.

No published study directly compares these drugs. Because they work in a similar way, switching from one of these drugs to another probably will not produce significantly different results. However, an Alzheimer’s patient may respond better to one drug than another.


The first drug approved to treat moderate to severe stages of Alzheimer's, Namenda (memantine) protects brain cells from damage caused by the chemical messenger glutamate.

Namenda's main effect is to delay progression of some of the symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. It may allow patients to maintain certain daily functions longer than they would without the medication. For example, Namenda may help a patient in the later stages of the disease maintain his or her ability to use the bathroom independently for several more months, a benefit for both patients and caregivers.

Namenda is believed to work by regulating glutamate, an important brain chemical. When produced in excessive amounts, glutamate may lead to brain cell death. Because NMDA antagonists work very differently from cholinesterase inhibitors, the two types of drugs can be prescribed in combination.

Namenda is often used in combination with a cholinesterase inhibitor. Memantine's most common side effect is dizziness, although it also appears to increase agitation and delusional behavior in some people.


The FDA has also approved Aricept® for the treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease.

There are a long list of experimental drugs that are currently being tested for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. These include

For a complete list of all ongoing clinical trials for Alzheimer's disease go to Clinical Trials.gov

For a more comprehensive description of Alzheimer's disease including: symptoms, causes, treatments, drugs, testing and diagnosis go here.

Also see





More About the Alzheimer's Reading Room




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Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. Bob has written more than 1,690 articles with more than 70,000 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room


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