Sadly, currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, there is no known drug or therapy that has the power to reverse or prevent it. However, drugs are being prescribed for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or some other types of dementia that have been dubbed as “memory pills”.
Before we explore these “memory pills”, it’s important to emphasize that Alzheimer’s disease is only one type of dementia – currently, the most common type of dementia. There are MANY different causes for dementia which means, there is no one drug or treatment that is effective for all the causes of dementia. The first step, therefore, is to get an accurate diagnosis of the type of dementia that you or your loved one is affected by, so that you can explore all possible treatment options for your circumstance.
If there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, then what do the drugs do?
Currently, the drugs that are available on the market, which have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), work in one of two different ways.
One group of drugs work on reducing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease by helping to increase the chemicals in the brain that improve communication between neurons to help with memory loss and difficulties with thinking abilities. However, these drugs only lessen these symptoms for a limited time. Examples of these drugs are: Donepezil (Aricept®), Galantamine (Razadyne®), Rivastigmine (Exelon®), Memantine (Namenda®), and Memantine + Donepezil (Namzaric®).
Another category of drugs work on delaying or changing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by destroying the amyloid plaques that are known to be found in the brains of patients. Currently, only one drug has been approved by the FDA in the USA and has shown some level of improvements among patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This drug is known as Aducanumab (Aduhelm™). However, Aducanumab is not yet available in Canada as it is still in trial phases.
Are the available drugs safe?
If you are considering taking these drugs for yourself or for your loved one, below are some important things to consider:
Consult with a healthcare professional (e.g., family physician, geriatrician, pharmacist, nutritionist, and other professionals involved in your or your loved one’s circle of care). You will want someone knowledgeable and experienced in the guidelines on the use (dosage, titration), management and monitoring of these medications.
Best to pay attention to any adverse drug reactions as these types of medications can have possible side effects. Common side effects of the current drugs can include stomach upset or skin rashes. Since it’s not uncommon for older adults to be taking other medications for other conditions, such as insomnia, hypertension, incontinence or medications to improve their appetite, to name a few, it’s important the care team is aware of all medications, and why you or your loved one are taking them, to help avoid any drug interactions.
If you are not ready for drug treatment, what are other options?
It is important to emphasize again that there are MANY different causes and there is no one drug or treatment that is effective against all these causes of dementia. Below are other possible approaches that are being encouraged by health practitioners:
- Staying physically active by exercising regularly;
- Engaging in daily cognitive exercises such as brain games;
- Maintaining a healthy diet with proper nutrition;
- Encouraging regular social activities;
- Getting enough sleep;
- Reducing or eliminating unhealthy habits such as smoking or excessive alcohol intake;
- Keeping numbers in check (blood pressure; cholesterol; blood sugar levels)
- Finding creative ways to continue to have a sense of purpose and maintain independence as long as possible.
There’s still much more to learn about Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Staying informed on ways to support our overall health, including current options for our brain health, is just one way to empower ourselves – both today and in the future.
Karen Tyrell CPCA, CDCP is a Dementia Consultant, Educator, Author & Advocate, and Founder of Personalized Dementia Solutions Inc. (www.DementiaSolutions.ca). Karen offers her expertise on dementia care through speaking engagements, workshops, support groups and by working one-on-one with families and caregivers to provide emotional support and practical solutions. She was also on the design team for The Village Langley and provides ongoing education to the Village team, families and the community.
The contents of this blog are provided for information purposes only. They are not intended to replace clinical diagnosis or medical advice from a health professional. For any health-related issue, always seek medical advice first from a trained medical professional.