Medical Treatments Available for Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Eventually, this disease prevents people from being able to carry out even the simplest of tasks. It’s the most common form of dementia, accounting for around 60-80% of dementia cases in the United States.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, however, available medications can reduce some symptoms and improve quality of life.
What medications are currently approved for Alzheimer’s?
Six medications are currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Alzheimer’s disease. While these medications don’t stop the progression of the disease, they may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited time.
Medications currently approved for Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Cholinesterase Inhibitors
This class of medication is used to treat symptoms related to memory, thinking, language, judgment, and other thought processes. These medications prevent the breakdown of a chemical messenger that’s important for memory and learning. The most common cholinesterase inhibitors include:
- Donepezil (Aricept®): Approved to treat all stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Rivastigmine (Exelon®): Approved for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s and mild-to-moderate dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease.
- Galantamine (Razadyne®): Approved for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
- Glutamate Regulators
This type of medication is used to improve memory, attention, reason, language, and the ability to perform simple tasks. These medications regulate a type of chemical messenger that helps the brain process information. There’s only one medication of this type approved for Alzheimer’s called memantine (Namenda®). It’s approved for moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease.
- Cholinesterase Inhibitor + Glutamate Regulator
This type of drug combines donepezil and memantine and goes by the brand name Namzaric®. It’s approved for moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease.
- Monoclonal Antibody
This type of medication is designed to target and remove specific forms of beta-amyloid that accumulate into plaques. These plaques are thought to contribute to cell death in areas of the brain associated with memory, thinking, learning, and behaviors.
In 2021, a medication of this type called aducanumab (Aduhelm™) received accelerated approval as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the first FDA-approved medication said to address the underlying biology of the disease. This medication, however, is quite controversial. The FDA approved this drug on the condition that further studies be conducted to confirm its benefits. As of now, the scientific evidence behind Aduhelm™ is inconclusive and there are concerns about its safety. And most health plans including Medicare and Medicaid strictly limit coverage for this medication.
Are there any new medications being studied?
The good news is that a growing understanding of how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain has led to the development of new drugs. These new drugs may slow or reverse the damage associated with the disease and are currently being tested.
While these new drugs are not yet available to the public, accessing them through a clinical trial is an option. Clinical trials recruit patients who are interested in new therapies and supporting research. These trials are free to participants and may include payment for time and travel.