Alzheimer's Disease Medications
What is Alzheimer's Disease?
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common cause of dementia in industrialized nations. Dementia is a brain disorder that interferes with a person's ability to carryout everyday activities. Alzheimer's disease usually affects the parts of the brain that control cognitive (intellectual) functions such as thought, memory, and language.
What Causes Alzheimer's Disease?
Aging is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease (AD), but most experts believe that Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging. Family history or genetics may be linked to the cause of Alzheimer's disease, but much research is currently in progress to better understand the cause. This research will also assist us in knowing more about how to best prevent and treat Alzheimer's disease.
Risks of Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease begins with subtle symptoms, but gradually becomes worse. Over time, the ability to think and reason clearly, judge situations, solve problems, concentrate, and remember useful information is lost. Eventually, people with Alzheimer's disease are unable to take care of their basic needs, or they loose mobility or the ability to speak. Behavior and personality changes are common. As Alzheimer's disease progresses, constant supervision becomes essential.
Individuals with Alzheimer's disease should remain physically, mentally, and socially active as long as they are able. It is believed that mental activity can slow the progression of the disease. Puzzles, games, reading, and safe hobbies and crafts are good choices. These activities should ideally be interactive. They should be of an appropriate level of difficulty so that the person does not become overly frustrated.
Behavior disorders such as agitation and aggression may improve with various interventions. Some interventions focus on helping the individual adjust or control his or her behavior. Others focus on helping caregivers and other family members change the person's behavior. These approaches sometimes work better when combined with drug treatment for depression, mood stabilization, or psychosis.
Alzheimer's disease symptoms can sometimes be relieved, at least temporarily, by medication. Many different types of medications have been or are being studied in the treatment of dementia. Currently, the drugs used for Alzheimer's disease are not a cure, but they help slow down the rate of decline in some people. In many people, the effect is modest, and in others, the effect is not noticeable.
Certain drugs, such as anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), vitamin E, and hormone therapy (estrogen) have been used on a trial basis in people with Alzheimer's disease. Experts think these drugs might help based on what we know from research about Alzheimer's disease. None of these drugs have yet achieved widespread acceptance as treatment for the disease.
The following sections discuss cholinesterase inhibitors and NMDA inhibitors, which have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/1/2014
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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