Unfortunately, there is no cure for AD. The goals in treating AD are to:
- Slow the progression of the disease (although this is difficult to do)
- Manage behavior problems, confusion, sleep problems, and agitation
- Modify the home environment
- Support family members and other caregivers
Most drugs used to treat Alzheimer's are aimed at slowing the rate at which symptoms become worse. The benefit from these drugs is often small, and patients and their families may not always notice much of a change.
Patients and caregivers should ask their doctors the following questions about whether and when to use these drugs:
- What are the potential side effects of the medicine and are they worth the risk, given that there will likely be only a small change in behavior or function?
- When is the best time, if any, to use these drugs in the course of Alzheimer's disease?
Two types of medicine are available:
Donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Razadyne, formerly called Reminyl) affect the level of a chemical in the brain called acetylcholine. Side effects include indigestion, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, and fatigue.
Memantine (Namenda) is another type of drug approved for treating AD. Possible side effects include agitation or anxiety.
Other medicines may be needed to control aggressive, agitated, or dangerous behaviors. These are usually given in very low doses.
It may be necessary to stop any medications that make confusion worse. Such medicines may include painkillers, cimetidine, central nervous system depressants, antihistamines, sleeping pills, and others. Never change or stop taking any medicines without first talking to your doctor.
Many people take folate (vitamin B9), vitamin B12, and vitamin E. However, there is no strong evidence that taking these vitamins prevents AD or slows the disease once it occurs.
Some people believe that the herb ginkgo biloba prevents or slows the development of dementia. However, high-quality studies have failed to show that this herb lowers the chance of developing dementia. DO NOT use ginkgo if you take blood-thinning medications like warfarin (Coumadin) or a class of antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
If you are considering any drugs or supplements, you should talk to your doctor first. Remember that herbs and supplements available over the counter are NOT regulated by the FDA.