• Several treatment options, both drug and non-drug, can slow the development of Alzheimer’s or ease its symptoms.
  • There are currently five FDA-approved drugs for Alzheimer’s, including one for moderate to severe symptoms.
  • Drug treatments should be approached cautiously; effectiveness and side effects vary widely by individual.

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Alzheimer’s remains incurable, but a range of treatment options can help ease its symptoms. Alzheimer’s treatments are often classified by the type of symptoms they’re designed to treat: cognitive or behavioral/psychiatric.

Cognitive symptoms are those that affect thought processes such as memory, language, concentration, and decision-making. Behavioral and psychiatric symptoms are those that affect the way your loved one acts and feels.

For mild to moderate cognitive symptoms, there are currently four FDA-approved medications. These drugs, called cholinesterase inhibitors, may delay worsening of symptoms for an average of 6 to 12 months, and may have greater benefits for a small percentage of patients. They’re available under the names Cognex (tacrine), Aricept (donepezil), Exelon (rivastigmine), and Razadyne (galantamine, formerly Reminyl). A different type of drug called Namenda (memantine) is the only medication approved for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s.

In addition to “standard” treatments, a variety of traditional, vitamin-based, and herbal treatments may help alleviate symptoms. Ask your loved one’s doctor for guidance before beginning any treatment.

For behavioral and psychiatric symptoms, medications can be effective in some situations. Drug treatments are best used in combination with non-drug approaches based on improved understanding of the disease and environmental changes that minimize obstacles to your loved one’s comfort and peace of mind. If medication is necessary, it’s best to start with a low dosage of a single drug. Effectiveness and side effects vary greatly by individual.

Next Step: Learn about recent advancements in Alzheimer’s research.

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