The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included. Ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications only as recommended by your doctor, and according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.
There are no medications to cure Alzheimers disease, but certain medications are commonly prescribed to manage the symptoms. Other medications are under investigation in clinical trials.
Cholinesterase inhibitors most commonly prescribed for Alzheimers disease include:
Cholinesterase inhibitors help enhance memory and other cognitive functions. This type of medication slows the breakdown of a chemical that helps cells communicate with one another. The longer this chemical exists the better the communication between brain cells. This may help to slow disease progression somewhat in people with mild-to-moderate Alzheimers disease.
Depending on which cholinesterase inhibitor you take, possible side effects include:
Memantine is a newer type of medication. It blocks the effects of a chemical that is believed to be toxic to nerve cells. Memantine is the first drug approved for treatment of moderate-to-severe Alzheimers disease. Improvements in daily functioning and cognition (thinking) have been seen. Memantine should not be used if you have severe kidney impairment.
Possible side effects of memantine include:
At least 25% of people with Alzheimers disease have depression. Antidepressants are used to treat low mood, depression, anxiety, and irritability. The antidepressants prescribed for Alzheimers disease belong to a group of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs work by increasing the activity of the chemical serotonin in the brain.
SSRIs prescribed for Alzheimers disease include:
Possible side effects of SSRIs include:
Anti-anxiety medications (anxiolytics) help ease symptoms of anxiety, phobias, and excessive motor activity. The medications listed are in a class of medications called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines reduce symptoms of anxiety by enhancing the function of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). These drugs produce a sedative effect, decrease physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, and often cause drowsiness and lethargy. They can be habit-forming when used long term or in excess. These drugs should not be used more than prescribed since they may cause or worsen problems with memory. These drugs should also not be stopped abruptly since serious side effects, such as seizures, may result.
Benzodiazepines sometimes prescribed for Alzheimers disease include:
Possible side effects of benzodiazepines include:
Antipsychotic medications are used for symptoms of agitation, hallucinations, delusions, bizarre behavior, and violent behavior. These drugs usually have a sedating effect on behavior and may not always be effective for those with Alzheimers disease.
Antipsychotics sometimes prescribed for Alzheimers disease include:
Possible side effects of olanzapine include:
Possible side effects of risperidone and quetiapine include:
In some cases these side effects are not reversible.
The antioxidant vitamin E has been studied in combination with selegiline (Eldepryl), a medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease, for possible protective effects against the progression of Alzheimers disease. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and may help prevent brain cell damage.
It is not clear that vitamin E provides any benefit. Further research is needed to conclusively determine the potential benefits of vitamin E in Alzheimers disease. Some doctors are recommending vitamin E as a potential preventive measure. However, since vitamin E can increase the risk of bleeding when taken with other medications, such as aspirin or warfarin (a blood thinning medicine), you should talk with your doctor before beginning it.
If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:
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Last reviewed August 2015 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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