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Alzheimer's disease treatment

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but there are medicines available on prescription that can help delay the condition's progression in some people.

Non-drug therapies such as physical activity, social contact and stress management, may also be of help.

Treatment for Alzheimer's disease may also involve planning for your care. This identifies the type of assistance that you might need, and focuses on ways of providing this support.

Medicines

Medicines that may be prescribed for Alzheimer's disease includes:

Whether these medicines are used will depend on a number of factors, such as the severity of your Alzheimer's disease.

In the first instance, these medicines can only be prescribed by a specialist who has experience in treating dementia, such as a:

  • psychiatrist – a doctor who specialises in treating mental health conditions
  • neurologist – a doctor who specialises in treating conditions that affect the nervous system (the brain and spinal cord)
  • geriatrician – a doctor who specialises in care for the elderly.

After this, your GP may be able to repeat your prescription, and you may be monitored by both your specialist and your GP.

Mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease

If you have mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease you may be prescribed one of the following medicines:

  • donepezil
  • galantamine
  • rivastigmine.

These medicines are known as 'acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors'. They work by boosting levels of a brain chemical that is important for memory, called acetylcholine.

Moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease

Memantine may be prescribed for people with moderate Alzheimer's disease who cannot take AChE inhibitors or for people with severe Alzheimer's disease.

Memantine works by blocking chemicals that are often released in large amounts in people with Alzheimer's disease. These chemicals can damage nerve cells and prevent messages moving to and from the brain.

Side effects

Donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine (acetylcholinesterase inhibitors) can cause side effects including:

  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea 
  • headaches
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep)
  • muscle cramps (when your muscles suddenly shorten and cause pain).

Memantine can cause side effects such as:

For more information about the possible side effects of a particular medication, refer to the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine, or ask your doctor. 

Dementia

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a syndrome (a group of symptoms) that is associated with an ongoing decline in mental abilities.

If you have been diagnosed with any other conditions as well as Alzheimer's disease, for example, depression or incontinence (when you unintentionally pass urine or stools), these may be treated separately.

Delaying dementia progress – expert advice

If you have been diagnosed with dementia, there are a range of things you can do to try to delay its progression. This can include managing pre-existing illnesses, as well as managing medications to remain as healthy as possible. Watch the video below and find out more about what can be done to delay its progression.


Read the related video transcript

Last reviewed: May 2017

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