If you are caring for someone with dementia, you've probably wondered if there are medications that can ease the symptoms or halt the progression of the condition. Unfortunately, there is no magic pharmaceutical bullet, but there are some dementia medications that can help some patients.
Because the different types of dementia have a broad range of causes and specific symptoms, it’s not possible to cover all of the dementia medications used to treat even the most common types of dementia here. But we can briefly touch on the medications currently approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease specifically.
Currently there are two such medication classes, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors and NMDA antagonists. Other medication classes are being developed, but are still in clinical trial phases.
- Donepezil, which is marketed as Aricept
- Rivastigmine, which is marketed as Exelon
- Galantamine, which is marketed as Razadyne
Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors prevent the breakdown of a chemical in the brain called acetylcholine, which is involved in memory and attention. If you prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, the nerves can communicate more effectively.
Memantine, which is marketed as Namenda, is the only medication marketed in this class. Memantine prevents too much calcium from entering the nerve cell, which can cause damage and cell death. Memantine slows down the flow of calcium into cells and protects the neurons. However, don’t think this means that calcium is bad — there’s no need to stop taking calcium, particularly patients with osteoporosis, to protect your brain from dementia.
The challenges for caregivers
People with dementia experience memory loss and cognitive impairments that can make life quite difficult. But understanding what is causing their dementia symptoms can help caregivers have appropriate expectations of patients and develop effective ways to interact with and care for them. Being informed about the particular type of dementia a patient has can also, in some cases, help caregivers assist patients in reducing risk factors that could contribute to worsening of dementia symptoms. Knowing what medications are out there can also help.
More available resources
If you're looking for medication to help someone you care for deal with dementia symptoms, talk to their doctor. You can also download our free ebook Most Common Types of Dementia: A Caregiver’s Guide to Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Dementia, Lewy Body Dementia and More for additional information.If you're looking for a comprehensive resource for family caregivers, check out our online Family Caregiver Guide.