Although current medications cannot cure Alzheimer’s, some may help lessen symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion.

FDA-approved drugs for Alzheimer’s

When considering any treatment, it is important to have a conversation with a health care professional to determine whether it is appropriate. A physician who is experienced in using these medications should monitor people who are taking them and ensure that the recommended guidelines are strictly observed.

Drugs that may change or delay progression of the disease

Drugs in this category may delay clinical decline with benefits to both cognition and function in people living with Alzheimer’s disease. While there are currently no approved drugs in this category, there are several under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and being tested in clinical trials. These drugs aim to change the underlying biology of the disease, with a goal of slowing down or stopping its progression.

Drugs that treat symptoms

Cognitive symptoms (memory and thinking)

As Alzheimer’s progresses, brain cells die and connections among cells are lost, causing cognitive symptoms to worsen. While these medications do not stop the damage Alzheimer’s causes to brain cells, they may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited time by affecting certain chemicals involved in carrying messages among and between the brain's nerve cells.

The following medications are prescribed to treat symptoms related to memory and thinking.

Cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept®, Exelon®, Razadyne®)
Cholinesterase (KOH-luh-NES-ter-ays) inhibitors are prescribed to treat symptoms related to memory, thinking, language, judgment and other thought processes. These medications prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine (a-SEA-til-KOHlean). Acetylcholine is a chemical messenger important for memory and learning. These drugs support communication between nerve cells.

The cholinesterase inhibitors most commonly prescribed are:

  • Donepezil (Aricept®): approved to treat all stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon®): approved for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s as well as mild-to-moderate dementia associated with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Galantamine (Razadyne®): approved for mild-to-moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Though generally well-tolerated, if side effects occur, they commonly include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and increased frequency of bowel movements.

Glutamate regulators (Namenda®)
Glutamate regulators are prescribed to improve memory, attention, reason, language and the ability to perform simple tasks. This type of drug works by regulating the activity of glutamate. Glutamate is a different chemical messenger that helps the brain process information.

This drug is known as:

  • Memantine (Namenda®): approved for moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease.

Can cause side effects, including headache, constipation, confusion and dizziness.

Cholinesterase inhibitor + glutamate regulator (Namzeric®)
This type of drug is a combination of a cholinesterase inhibitor and a glutamate regulator.

  • Donepezil and memantine (Namzaric®): approved for moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease.

Possible side effects include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, increased frequency of bowel movements, headache, constipation, confusion and dizziness.

Non-cognitive symptoms (behavioral and psychological symptoms)

Alzheimer’s affects more than just memory and thinking. A person’s quality of life may be impacted by a variety of behavioral and psychological symptoms that accompany dementia, such as sleep disturbances, agitation, hallucinations and delusions. Some medications focus on treating these non-cognitive symptoms for a time, though it is important to try non-drug strategies to manage behaviors before adding medications.

At this time, the FDA has approved one drug to address insomnia in people living with dementia, but trials into drugs that address other non-cognitive symptoms are underway.

Orexin receptor antagonist (Belsomra®)
Prescribed to treat insomnia for individuals living with dementia, this drug is thought to inhibit the activity of orexin, a type of neurotransmitter involved in the sleep-wake cycle:

  • Suvorexant (Belsomra®): approved for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

Possible side effects include, but are not limited to: risk of impaired alertness and motor coordination (including impaired driving), worsening of depression or suicidal thinking, complex sleep behaviors (such as sleep-walking and sleep-driving), sleep paralysis and compromised respiratory function.

Treatments at a glance

Treats cognitive symptoms (memory and thinking)

Name
(Generic/Brand)
Approved For Side Effects
Donepezil
Aricept®
Mild to severe dementia due to Alzheimer’s Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, muscle cramps and increased frequency of bowel movements.
Galantamine
Razadyne®
Mild to moderate dementia due to Alzheimer’s Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and increased frequency of bowel movements.
Rivastigmine
Exelon®
Mild to moderate dementia due to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and increased frequency of bowel movements.
Memantine
Namenda®
Moderate to severe dementia due to Alzheimer’s Headache, constipation, confusion and dizziness.
Memantine + Donepezil
Namzaric®
Moderate to severe dementia due to Alzheimer’s Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, increased frequency of bowel movements, headache, constipation, confusion and dizziness.

Treats non-cognitive symptoms (behavioral and psychological)

Name
(Generic/Brand)
Approved For Side Effects
Suvorexant
Belsomra®
Insomnia in people living with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease Impaired alertness and motor coordination, worsening of depression or suicidal thinking, complex sleep behaviors, sleep paralysis, compromised respiratory function.

Medication safety

Before beginning a new medication, make sure your physician and pharmacist are aware of all medications, dietary supplements, or other products currently being taken (including prescriptions, over-the-counter and alternative preparations). This is important to make certain medications will not interact with one another, causing side effects.

  Download

Participate in clinical trials

Recruiting and retaining clinical trial participants is now the greatest obstacle, other than funding, to developing the next generation of Alzheimer's treatments. Individuals with dementia, caregivers and healthy volunteers are all needed to participate in clinical studies focused on Alzheimer's and all other dementia.

If you are interested in participating in a current clinical study, Alzheimer's Association TrialMatch® is a free, easy-to-use clinical studies matching service that generates customized lists of studies based on user-provided information.

The TrialMatch database includes:

  • Trials for new drugs or non-drug-based dementia treatments.
  • Studies on new tests or procedures for diagnosis.
  • Trials that investigate ways to prevent the onset of diseases.
  • Studies exploring ways to improve quality of life for individuals living with a chronic illness, their caregivers and family members.
  • Online studies.