Alzheimer’s Disease: Treating the Symptoms

Over the last three posts, we have looked at 10 warning signs of Alzheimer’s, risk factors for the disease and understanding the seven stages of Alzheimer’s. I would now like to finish this series by taking a look at several treatments.  At this time there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and no way to stop the death of brain cells associated with the disease.  However, research has shown that some treatments may help both cognitive and behavioral symptoms.


Cognitive Symptoms

In regard to treating symptoms that affect memory, awareness, language, judgment and other thought processes, there are currently only two types of drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  The first type is cholinesterase inhibitors.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these inhibitors prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger essential for memory and learning.  While this treatment may delay the worsening of symptoms for six to 12 months, it is only effective for about half of the people who take them.  You might recognize three cholinesterase inhibitors under the names of:

-Aricept (Donepezil), approved in 1996

-Exelon (Rivastigmine), approved in 2000

-Razadyne (Galantamine), approved in 2001

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the second type of drug used to treat cognitive symptoms works by regulating the activity of glutamate, a different chemical messenger involved in information processing.  Currently, Namenda (Memantine) is the only drug approved in this class.  Namenda is approved for treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease and may temporarily delay the worsening of symptoms for some people.

Behavioral Symptoms

Oftentimes, the behavioral changes of an individual are the hardest on family members or loved ones.  The first step in treating behavioral symptoms is understanding the possible cause of the symptoms.  Often times, behavioral symptoms can be treated without the use of medications.  The following three steps are from the Alzheimer’s Association on how to develop non-drug treatments.

1. Identify the symptom.

2.  Understand its cause.

Some symptoms may be caused by drug side effects or drug-drug interactions when taking multiple medications.  Symptoms may also be caused by treatable medical conditions, such as infection or illness, or by environmental influences such as moving to a new residence or adapting to a new caregiver.

3. Changing the caregiving environment to remove obstacles or challenges.

This may include talking to your doctor and pharmacist about medications or monitoring the individuals comfort in the home.


Even though Alzheimer’s is a very sad disease for families and loved ones to cope with, there is hope for the future.  This from the Alzheimer’s Association:

“Today, Alzheimer’s is at the forefront of biomedical research, with 95 percent of what we know discovered in the last 15 years.”

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