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Alzheimer's Disease (cont.)

Medications

There are no medicines that can prevent or cure Alzheimer's disease. Medicine may help some people function better by temporarily reducing memory loss and thinking problems. Other medicines may be needed to manage behaviors or symptoms that are causing strain for the person who has Alzheimer's disease and/or for his or her caregivers.

Medicines for memory problems

These medicines may temporarily help improve memory and daily functioning in some people who have Alzheimer's disease. The improvement varies from person to person. These medicines don't prevent the disease from getting worse. But they may slow down symptoms of mental decline.

The main decision about using these usually isn't whether to try a medicine but when to begin and stop treatment. Treatment can be started as soon as Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed. If the medicines are effective, they are continued until the side effects outweigh the benefits or until the person no longer responds to the medicines.

Click here to view a Decision Point.Alzheimer's Disease: Should I Take Medicines?

Medicines for behavior problems

Other medicines may be tried to treat anxiety, agitated or hostile behavior, sleep problems, frightening or disruptive false beliefs (delusions), suspicion of others (paranoia), or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there).

Before deciding to use medicine for behavior problems, try to see what is causing the behavior. If you know the cause, you may be able to find better ways of dealing with that behavior. You may be able to avoid treatment with medicine and the side effects and costs that come with it.

Medicines generally are used only for behavior problems when other treatments have failed. They may be needed if:

  • A behavior is severely disruptive or harmful to the person or to others.
  • Efforts to manage or reduce disruptive behavior by making changes in the person's environment or routines have failed.
  • The behavior is making the situation intolerable for the caregiver.
  • The person has trouble telling the difference between what is and is not real (psychosis). Psychosis causes the person to have false beliefs (delusions) and to hear or see things that aren't there (hallucinations).

What to think about

Some research suggests that people with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease who took cholinesterase inhibitors had improved thinking and daily functioning when they added memantine (Namenda) to their treatment.6

Close monitoring and regular reevaluation of the person who has Alzheimer's disease are very important during treatment with medicine. As the disease progresses and symptoms change, the person's medicine needs often change. If you are a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer's disease, be alert for adverse drug reactions or side effects that further impair the person's ability to function.

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