Medicines Used to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS)

When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease drugs, the choice is nowhere near as extensive as remedies available for common ailments at your local pharmacy. These drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat AD specifically, and some are also approved to treat other dementias. In fact, just four medicines are available.

Dementia is finally at the forefront of government health policy, and it often makes headlines in the media. Hopefully investment into research by scientists and drug companies will continue, and the research will begin to bear fruit. But for now, here’s a guide to what your doctors may have up their sleeves.

These medicines can help the symptoms of AD, but they’re not a cure for it. All patients with AD will worsen over time, even with the use of these medications. These drugs may slow AD progression for a limited period of time, but they don’t return a person with AD back to normal nor do they prevent the disease from ultimately taking its toll.

The medicines that doctors prescribe for AD have been designed to lessen the rate of progression of cognitive loss over time. Patients taking these drugs may experience some cognitive improvement, but they don’t return to their former baseline brain function. Sometimes these medications can benefit mood and behavior issues in AD patients as well. They’re available in a variety of formulations to help make them easy to take including pills, patches, liquids, and soluble tablets.

As with all drugs, AD medicines have a so-called generic name, which all manufacturers must use, and a brand name, which is the specific name a particular drug company gives to them. Here’s an example with a well-known drug: Ibuprofen is the generic name, and Motrin is the brand name for the drug manufactured by one pharmaceutical company, and Advil is the name for the same drug by another pharmaceutical company. The more companies that make the drugs, the more brand names you find on the market for that medication.

Here are the four AD drugs, with their generic names first, followed by their brand names in brackets:

  • Donepezil (Aricept)
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon)
  • Galantamine (Razadyne)
  • Memantine (Namenda)