Medications for Alzheimer’s Disease


Once a diagnosis is made, the first question that comes to mind is, "What type of treatment is available?" Is there medication? Is there a cure? These are common concerns once dementia enters the picture.

Although current medications cannot cure Alzheimer's (AD) or stop it from progressing, they may help lessen symptoms in some people, such as memory loss and confusion, for a limited time. has gathered information from the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging regarding drugs that are approved by the FDA to treat AD.

Medications for Early to Moderate AD

Cholinesterase inhibitors treat memory problems, thinking, language, judgment and other thought processes. This class of drugs prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine, a brain chemical believed to be important in memory function and thinking. As Alzheimer's progresses, the brain produces less and less acetylcholine, therefore cholinesterase inhibitors may eventually lose their therapeutic effect. Commonly used drugs include donepezil, revastigmine and galantamine. All three of these work in the same way, but each individual reacts differently to medications, so one type may be more effective than the others.

  • Donepezil was originally patented as the brand name Aricept, but is more widely available now as a generic.
  • Rivastigmine was created as Exelon and is now also available under other brand names as well as in generic form.
  • Galantamine, is now available as a generic and under the brand names Nivalin, Razadyne, Reminyl, Lycoremine Acumor, Galsya and Gatalin.

Medications for Moderate to Severe AD

The Memantine class of drugs helps to improve memory, attention, reason, language and the ability to perform simple tasks. Memantine regulates the activity of glutamate, a messenger chemical involved in learning and memory. It may allow people with AD to maintain daily functions a little longer than they would without the medication. Memantine is a N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDA) antagonist and was originally patented as Ebixa, but is now available in generic form.

Common Drugs Used to Treat Advancing Alzheimer's Disease

  • Aricept
  • Donepezil
  • Exelon
  • Galantamine
  • Namenda
  • Razadyne
  • Rivastigmine

The chart below shows which Medicare prescription drug plans cover which Alzheimer's medications.

Medication Selection and Titration

These drugs can be taken without many side effects, but every patients metabolizes medications differently. Not everyone experiences the same effects or for the same length of time. It is also worth noting that different types of dementia respond better to certain kinds of drugs as well. Consult your physician and ask what they would recommend for your loved one and what improvements as well as side effects you might expect.

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