Alzheimer's Disease Treatments

Many treatments are being evaluated, but as of yet, there is no cure. There are a number of medications currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer's Disease. Donepezil (Aricept), Rivastigmine (Exelon) and Galantamine (Razydyne) are medications which block the enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, which is one of the enzymes responsible for degrading acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter in the brain, which is crucial for the formation of memories. Clinical drug trials with these medications show that cognitive abilities can be improved over baseline for up to 6-12 months after starting a cholinesterase inhibitor. These medications have also been shown to improve some of the behaviors associated with Alzheimer's disease, such as apathy, delusions, and disinhibition. Common side effects seen with all of the cholinesterase inhibitors include nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness.

Another medication with a different mechanism of action has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Memantine (Namenda) is a medication which helps improve cognition by blocking the overstimulating effects of excessive glutamate, a mechanism which appears to be a major factor in cell injury and death in Alzheimer's disease. Common side effects seen with memantine include dizziness, confusion and headache. Researchers are also trying to develop other methods of blocking the product of amyloid plaques or enhancing their clearance from the brain.

There are also a number of psychiatric medications, which are used to treat the behavioral disturbances which commonly develop in the later stages of Alzheimer's disease such as depression, apathy, aggressive behavior, delusional thinking and disinhibition. Medications used to treat these behavioral and psychiatric symptoms include antidepressants, antipsychotic and mood stabilizing medications.

Living with Alzheimer's Disease
The term "dementia" is used to describe the gradual deterioration of "intellectual" abilities and behavior that eventually interferes with customary daily living activities. "Customary daily living activities" include balancing the checkbook, keeping house, driving the car, involvement in social activities, and working at one's usual occupation. There may also be changes in personality and emotions. Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a normal outcome of aging, but is caused by diseases that affect the brain. Dementia influences all aspects of mind and behavior, including memory, judgment, language, concentration, visual perception, temperament, and social interactions. Although dementia symptoms are eventually obvious to everyone, in the early stages special evaluations are necessary to demonstrate the abnormalities.

In people over the age of 65, the most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease is a form of brain degeneration in which abnormal particles called neurofibrillary tangles and neuritic plaques form in the brain and destroy healthy neurons (brain cells). These abnormalities tend to settle in brain areas that control the ability to learn a new fact and remember it 30 minutes, or a day later, a skill we refer to as "memory". Years of studying dementias have shown that Alzheimer's disease is not the only type of brain degeneration. There are other forms of brain degeneration, many of which can affect people in their 50's or even 40's.

Persons living with AD should consider enrolling in the CNADC’s research programs. Many new studies are recruiting persons with  AD. Please contact our research team to learn more about AD studies.

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