How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated?

Alzheimer’s disease is complex, and it is therefore unlikely that any one drug or other intervention will ever successfully treat it in all people living with the disease. Still, in recent years, scientists have made tremendous progress in better understanding Alzheimer’s and in developing and testing new treatments, including several medications that are in late-stage clinical trials.

Treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can provide people with comfort, dignity, and independence for a longer period of time and can encourage and assist their caregivers as well. Galantamine, rivastigmine, and donepezil are cholinesterase inhibitors that are prescribed for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s symptoms. These drugs may help reduce or control some cognitive and behavioral symptoms.

Scientists do not yet fully understand how cholinesterase inhibitors work to treat Alzheimer’s disease, but research indicates that they prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a brain chemical believed to be important for memory and thinking. As Alzheimer’s progresses, the brain produces less and less acetylcholine, so these medicines may eventually lose their effect. Because cholinesterase inhibitors work in a similar way, switching from one to another may not produce significantly different results, but a person living with Alzheimer’s may respond better to one drug versus another.

Medications that target the underlying causes of a disease are called disease-modifying drugs or therapies. Aducanumab is the only disease-modifying medication currently approved to treat Alzheimer’s. This medication is a human antibody, or immunotherapy, that targets the protein beta-amyloid and helps to reduce amyloid plaques, which are brain lesions associated with Alzheimer’s. Clinical studies to determine the effectiveness of aducanumab were conducted only in people with early-stage Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment. Researchers are continuing to study whether this medication works to affect a person’s rate of cognitive decline over time.

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Andy Cramer

Andy Cramer

Our new company, ExendaTouch, is free and enables family caregivers to connect anonymously, find non-profit resources close by and read our daily blog.