There’s no cure, prevention or treatment to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, but medications are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat symptoms of the disease. The medications don’t help everyone, but the more you know about Alzheimer’s treatments, the better prepared you will be to discuss them with your physician and make informed choices.
The more you know about Alzheimer’s medications, the better prepared you will be to discuss them with your physician, make informed choices about your treatment plan, and effectively cope with symptoms of the disease.
- Treating sleep changes
- Alternative treatments
- Research into tomorrow’s treatments
- Participate in clinical trials
While there is no cure, prevention or treatment to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, there are five prescription medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat its symptoms.
Alzheimer’s medications do not help everyone. Research shows these medications work in about 50 percent of the people who take them for up to approximately two years.
The first four drugs are called cholinesterase inhibitors. These drugs prevent the breakdown of a chemical messenger in the brain important for learning and memory. These medications treat symptoms related to memory, thinking, language, judgment and other thought processes. Tacrine (the fourth drug listed in the chart) is rarely prescribed today because of its side effects, including possible liver damage.
The fifth drug, memantine, regulates the activity of a different chemical messenger in the brain that is also important for learning and memory. Both types of drugs help manage symptoms, but work in different ways.
> Learn more about these treatments and how they work
Before beginning a new medication, make sure your physician, pharmacist and care team are aware of any over-the-counter and alternative remedies you are taking to prevent drug interactions and unwanted side effects. Be sure to discuss all medications you take with your doctor to understand why they were prescribed and how to take them.
> Questions for your doctor regarding treatments
TIPS FROM PEOPLE WITH ALZHEIMER’S
Medication Safety Tips From People Living With Alz
It’s easy to forget whether you took your last dose and when. Here are some ideas that have worked for other people living with the dementia:
- Keep a calendar and check off each dose as it’s taken.
- Set up a pill box each night for use the next day.
- Set the alarm on your cell phone or schedule dosing around meal times.
Treating sleep changes
Alzheimer’s or dementia may change your sleep patterns. You may have difficulty sleeping, take daytime naps, and/or experience other shifts in your sleep pattern. Researchers are not sure why these sleep changes occur. There are non-drug treatments and medications that may help improve your sleep.
> Learn more about treatments for sleep changes
There are remedies, supplements and “medical foods” that are often referred to as alternative treatments. Alternative treatments are not regulated and do need adhere to the same standards as FDA-approved treatments. Claims about their safety and effectiveness are based largely on testimonials, tradition or a small body of scientific research.
If you are considering taking an alternative treatment, talk openly with your physician. It is important to be aware of any risks so you can make an informed decision. Even if advertised as “natural,” alternative treatments can involve potentially powerful substances that have not met the FDA standards for effectiveness or safety, and some alternative medicines can cause unintended reactions when taken with prescription medications.
> Find out the facts about alternative therapies
Here is a list of questions to ask when considering an alternative treatment or supplement:
- Did the FDA test the product? If so, what were the results?
The FDA may have tested a product, but found it to be ineffective for the intended purpose. The company may still release the product as a medical food, either with or without changes.
- Has any non-FDA testing been done? If so, what were the results?
Does the testing entity have a vested insterest in the outcomes? For example, was testing done only by the company developing the product? If so, the results may not be entirely reliable.
- Does the developer of the product or the person recommending it to you have a potential financial gain from the use of the medication?
If so, use extreme caution. Check with your care team to see if they have any questions or concerns with your plan to use it.
- Is the product compatible with the other medications you are taking or with your diagnoses?
Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out whether the product could cause negative outcomes given your diagnoses and any medications you are taking.
- Does use of the product have any known risks?
Ask your doctor or the pharmacist if the product has any known side effects.
Research into tomorrow’s treatments
Researchers are conducting studies to find new interventions and treatments that can prevent Alzheimer’s, diagnose the disease earlier, slow its progression or stop it in its tracks.
Scientists are investigating future treatments called “disease-modifying drugs.” These drugs aim to modify the disease process itself by having an effect on one or more of the many wide-ranging brain changes that Alzheimer’s causes. These changes offer potential “targets” for new drugs to stop or slow the progress of the disease. These promising targets include beta-amyloid and tau protein (hallmarks of Alzheimer’s brain abnormality); inflammation; and insulin resistance.
> Learn more about future treatments
> Research Center
Participate in clinical trials
Recruiting and retaining trial participants is now the greatest obstacle, other than funding, to developing the next generation of Alzheimer’s treatments. You can help change this by participating in a clinical research study.
To find a clinical trial, use Alzheimer’s Association TrialMatch® or call 1.800.272.3900 (line open 7 a.m.– 8:30 p.m. CT, Monday through Friday.)
TrialMatch® is a free, easy-to-use clinical studies matching service that connects individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia, caregivers, healthy volunteers and physicians with current studies.
Once you qualify for a trial, you will work with the trial research team to understand the benefits and risks of participating before making a final decision and signing an informed consent form. You will be going through this process with the people conducting the study, rather than your doctor. Many studies require that you bring a family member or caregiver with you to the interview, so make sure to ask the research team about this and any additional questions you may have.
The next time you visit your doctor, ask if a clinical trial might be right for you. Your doctor knows you and your health history, and can help you gather the information needed to locate a trial and help you identify what questions might be important to ask before deciding to participate.