Medications to Manage Alzheimer’s Disease

There presently is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The medications currently used to treat Alzheimer’s have been developed to slow the progression of the symptoms of this disease. For some individuals that take these medications and their family care givers, the benefits may be so minimal that they go unnoticed.

There are a number of investigational drugs being tested in the areas of Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment. At the present time, many research areas are focusing on stopping or decreasing the beta amyloid plaque buildup that occurs in the Alzheimer’s disease process.

Medications to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

At the present time, there are only two drug classifications that have been approved in the US by the Food and Drug Administration to treat Alzheimer’s.

Cholinesterase inhibitors are generally prescribed to treat mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s.  Research scientists do not understand why cholinesterase inhibitors work on the brain to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Acetylcholine is a chemical in the brain that scientists believe is important for an individual’s memory and thinking processes. In Alzheimer’s disease, as the disease advances, the brain actually produces decreasing amounts of cholinesterase.

Donepezil is the one medication from this classification that is also approved for treatment of severe dementia.

Studies have shown that these medications, cholinesterase inhibitors, actually prevent the breakdown of this chemical in the brain. So over time, these medications lose their effectiveness.

N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonists are another classification of drug approved that are generally prescribed to treat moderate-to-severe stages of Alzheimer’s.

This drug classification is to slow the progression and treat some of the symptoms of the disease. The goals of this classification of drug is  to allow individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s the ability to maintain a few functions of daily life a little longer than they would without the medication.

Negatives and Positives of Medications

At the present time, all medications that are approved for Alzheimer’s are expensive. With all medications, they do have side effects. These medications do not deliver dramatic results that family members and patients may be expecting.  While these medications may slow the progression, they do not stop the destruction of the disease process from advancing.

It is important to be aware that this is a condition that the health care professionals will address new symptoms that develop and treat accordingly. It is also important that you as a health care consumer be prepared to discuss any new symptoms or behaviors, making sure to take the most up to date list of all medications, herbal, and nutritional supplements that the person with Alzheimer’s takes at the time. Of course, a list of medication and food allergies, as well as any medications that may have had an adverse effect on the person with Alzheimer’s, is important information.

Treating the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

An individual with Alzheimer’s disease may develop a range of symptoms. These symptoms can include depression, anxiety, apathy, delusions, psychosis, aggressive behaviors and sleep disturbances. Each individual is different and responds to medications differently.

It is important to keep records of any medications and any reactions to that medication for future reference. This is especially important because as individuals age, some may have an opposite response than was anticipated from the medication. This is called a paradoxyl response. An example may be a medication meant to calm a person that is agitated when, in fact, further excites them.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care

SeniorLiving.Net has Care Advisors across the country that have relationships with senior living communities that specialize in Alzhiemer’s and dementia care. To speak to your local Care Advisor call (866) 662-0435. SeniorLiving.Net offers this assistance to families looking for senior care absolutely FREE!

Diane Carbo is a registered nurse with over 37 years experience. She has worked in a hospital setting as a Charge Nurse and other settings including orthopedics/rehabilitation, home care, discharge planning, case management, oncology, hospice, senior behavioral health, assisted living, and long term care.