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Drugs for Alzheimer’s Disease: Current and in Development

Introduction

If you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease (AD), you likely know that there is not yet a cure for this condition. However, medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can help prevent or slow the development of cognitive (thought-related) AD symptoms. These symptoms include memory loss and trouble thinking. Read on to learn about drugs that are available today and others that are currently being developed.

Medications used to help treat Alzheimer’s disease

Below are examples of the drugs most commonly prescribed to prevent or slow the development of AD symptoms. How effective these drugs are can vary from person to person. All of these drugs also become less effective over time as AD becomes gradually worse.

Donepezil (Aricept): This drug is used to delay or slow the symptoms of mild, moderate, and severe AD. It comes in a tablet or disintegrating tablet.

Galantamine (Razadyne): This drug is used to prevent or slow the symptoms of mild to moderate AD. It comes as a tablet, extended-release capsule, or oral solution (liquid).

Memantine (Namenda): This drug is sometimes given with Aricept, Exelon, or Razadyne. It’s used to delay or slow the symptoms of moderate to severe AD. It comes in a tablet, extended-release capsule, and oral solution.

Rivastigmine (Exelon): This drug is used to prevent or slow the symptoms of mild to moderate AD. It comes in a capsule or extended-release transdermal patch.

Memantine extended-release and donepezil (Namzaric): This drug capsule is used to treat moderate to severe AD. It’s prescribed for certain people who take donepezil and who have not had bad reactions to the ingredients. No evidence suggests that it prevents or slows underlying disease process.

Alzheimer’s drugs in development

AD is a complex disease, and researchers do not yet fully understand it or how to treat it. However, they are hard at work developing new drugs and drug combinations. The goal of these new products is to reduce AD symptoms or even change the disease process.

Some of the most promising AD drugs now in development include:

Aducanumab: This drug targets deposits in the brain of a protein called beta-amyloid. This protein forms clusters, or plaques, around brain cells in people with AD. These plaques prevent messages from being sent between the cells, causing AD symptoms. However, aducanumab has shown some signs of working to dissolve these plaques.

Solanezumab: This is another anti-amyloid drug. Studies are under way to see if solanezumab can slow down cognitive decline in certain people with AD. The drug would be prescribed for people who have amyloid plaques but who do not yet show symptoms of memory loss and trouble thinking.

Insulin: Research is being done called the Study of Nasal Insulin in the Fight against Forgetfulness (SNIFF). It’s examining whether a type of insulin in a nasal spray can improve memory function. The focus of the research is on people with mild memory problems or AD.

Others: Other drugs that are currently being developed include verubecestat, AADvac1, CSP-1103, and intepirdine. It seems likely that AD and the problems related to it will not be cured by a single medication. Future research may lean more toward prevention and treatment of the causes of AD.

Talk with your doctor

It can be hard to face a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, but learning all you can about medications that could ease symptoms can help. Talking to your doctor is another important step. Before your doctor visit, you may want to write down topics and questions like these to make sure you get the answers you need:

  • Which medications and medication combinations will you prescribe now and in the near future? What symptom changes can we expect after treatment begins, and what is the typical timeframe for these changes?
  • What are the possible side effects of treatment? When should we call the doctor for help?
  • Are there any clinical treatment trials that we could consider joining?
  • In addition to medications, what lifestyle changes can we make to slow down symptoms?

Content licensed from:

Written by: Wendy Leonard, MPH
Medically reviewed on: Nov 28, 2016: Darren Hein, PharmD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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