Medications for the Management of Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms

Published: January 06, 2022
By Douglas Lasch, PharmD Candidate, Class of 2022
By Danielle Harvey, PharmD Candidate, Class of 2022

As someone who has served as a caretaker for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to see a loved one affected by the disease as it worsens over time. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, which is a general term used to describe a group of symptoms (like the loss of thinking, remembering, or reasoning) that interfere with a person’s daily life. With Alzheimer’s disease, dementia symptoms gradually worsen over time. There are medications available that may help manage the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, but currently, there are no medications that cure Alzheimer’s disease.

What are the current medications for Alzheimer’s disease?
Several medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. These medications have been found in some patients to slow the worsening of symptoms temporarily and may improve their quality of life. The medications come in several delivery methods—patches worn on the skin, tablets that dissolve in the mouth, medications given into a vein, or capsules or tablets that are swallowed.

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors, including donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Razadyne), are most often prescribed for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. They work by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, which is a chemical messenger important for memory and learning.
  • Glutamate regulators, including memantine (Namenda), work by regulating glutamate which, is a chemical messenger that helps the brain process information is prescribed to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. 
  • Monoclonal antibodies, including aducanumab (Aduhelm), target and remove amyloid plaques in the brain. Because it was approved under an accelerated approval process granted by the FDA, clinical studies are ongoing to verify its benefit to patients.

Are there new therapeutic options on the horizon?
There is a lot of promising research in the area of Alzheimer’s disease. The monoclonal antibodies lecanemab and donanemab have both shown promise and are moving into phase 3 clinical trials before they are considered for approval by the FDA. Researchers are also looking at medications that reduce inflammation in the brain, and a number of studies are looking at the connection between heart health and brain health.

There are currently several medications to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Some of these medications may be used in combination to increase the management of symptoms. Your pharmacist is an excellent resource for information about medications for Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. In addition, new research brings hope that there will soon be additional effective medications to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

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