Five medications have been approved to treat the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The drugs can reduce some symptoms — such as difficulties with memory, language, attention and reasoning — especially in the early stages of the disease. They can, accordingly, improve quality of life, but they don't work for everyone, and none of them works permanently. Eventually the disease will overtake the drugs' ability to compensate.
FOR THE RECORD:
Alzheimer's drug: In the July 26 Health section, an information box said that the medication Aricept is approved for earlier stages of Alzheimer's disease. In fact, Aricept can be used for mild, moderate or severe Alzheimer's disease. —
Four of the medications are cholinesterase inhibitors. These drugs appear to work by slowing the loss of acetylcholine in the brain, a chemical critical to cognitive function. The other, and newest drug, Namenda, is an N-methyl D-aspartate antagonist. It appears to work by regulating glutamate, a brain chemical that can cause cell death in excessive amounts.
A cholinesterase inhibitor and the NMDA antagonist are often prescribed together. In combination, or even taken alone, these medications can, in some people, improve the ability to perform simple tasks.
Brand NameGeneric Name ApprovedUsed
Namenda memantine 2003In later stages
Razadyne or Reminyl galantamine 2001 Earlier stages
Exelonrivastigmine 2000Earlier stages
Ariceptdonepezil 1996Earlier stages
Cognextacrine 1993 Rarely used due to serious side effects