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Dementia Overview (cont.)

What medications treatment dementia symptoms?

Patient Comments

Dementia treatment focuses on correcting all reversible factors and slowing irreversible factors. Some of the important drug treatment strategies in dementia are described. Except for the cholinesterase inhibitors, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any drug specifically for dementia. The drugs listed here are some of the most frequently prescribed from each class.

Slowing the progression of dementia

Dementia due to some conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease, can sometimes be slowed in the early-to-intermediate stages with medication. Many different types of medications have been or are being tried in dementia. The medications that have worked the best so far are the cholinesterase inhibitors.

  • Cholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down a chemical in the brain called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine acts as an important messaging system in the brain.
  • Cholinesterase inhibitors, by stopping the breakdown of this neurotransmitter, increase the amount of acetylcholine in the brain of a person with dementia and improve brain function.
  • These drugs not only improve or stabilize mental functions, but they may also have positive effects on behavior and activities of daily living.
  • They are not a cure for dementia, and in many people the effect is fairly modest. In others, these drugs do not have much of a noticeable effect. Moreover, the effects are temporary, since these drugs do not change the underlying medical condition.
  • Another drug, memantine (Namenda), which works in a different way, is showing promise in certain types of dementia.

Treating depression

Because depression is so common in people with dementia, treatment of depression can at least partially relieve symptoms.

  • Depression is usually treated with any of a group of drugs known as antidepressants.
  • The most important of these are the drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), for example, Fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexeva), citalopram (Celexa).
  • Stimulant drugs such as methylphenidate (used to treat attention deficit disorders in children) may sometimes be used to treat depression in people with dementia.
  • Some of the medications that treat depression also help with anxiety.

Correcting drug doses and/or withdrawing misused drugs

Many seniors require ongoing medications for chronic conditions such as heart failure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, prostate enlargement, and many others.

  • Reviewing these medications can reveal incorrect doses, drug interactions, side effects, or poor compliance (taking drugs inappropriately or not at all) that could be responsible for part or all of the person's dementia symptoms.
  • Adjustment of doses, elimination of interactions, and development of a drug-taking regimen to ensure that the person takes his or her drugs as prescribed can help reverse symptoms.

All drugs cause side effects. In prescribing a drug, doctors weigh whether the benefits of the drug outweigh the side effects. Seniors are especially likely to experience drug side effects. People with dementia who are taking any of these drugs must be checked often to make sure that the side effects are tolerable.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/20/2016

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Dementia:

Dementia - Medications

What medications are you or someone you know taking for dementia symptoms? Are they helping?

Dementia Overview - Symptoms

What symptoms of dementia have you or someone you know experienced?

Dementia - Test

What kind of tests did you or someone you know undergo to diagnose dementia?

Dementia - Treatment

What kind of treatments are you you or someone you know receiving for dementia?

Dementia - Experiencee

Please share your experience with dementia.


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Delirium, Dementia, and Amnesia »

Delirium, dementia, amnesia, and certain other alterations in cognition are subsumed under more general terms such as mental status change (MSC), acute confusional state (ACS), or organic brain syndrome (OBS).

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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