Although not a cure, medications for Alzheimer’s disease can be helpful in limiting the severity of this disease thus allowing the patient who suffers with Alzheimer’s disease some ease and discomfort of some of the symptoms that it will inflict on the patient.
In patients who are in the early stages of the disease, also called mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, cholinesterase inhibitors are used. These Alzheimers medications are thought to inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain used as a neurotransmitter playing a role in thinking, learning and memory. Doctors use this drug to slow down and sometimes prevent some of the disturbing and discouraging behavioral symptoms for a short time.
The cholinesterase inhibitors are Exelon (rivastigmine), Aricept (donepezil) and Razadyne (galantamine) formerly known as Reminyl. An earlier medication, no longer available, Cognex (tacrine) also falls into the classification of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors.
As the disease progresses the acetylcholine production in the brain slows making the cholinesterase inhibitor medications less effective. Patients and their families will see changes in the behavior of the sufferer and will know the medication has lost its ability to help with behavior and cognitive changes.
Like with all medications there are people who react to some medications better than others. And, as with other medications, there are side effects and drug interactions with other medications. To ensure that the patient isn’t suffering from side effects and drug interactions on top of their symptoms be sure to tell their doctor and pharmacist of all medications, both prescription and over the counter, that they are taking.
As the disease progresses to moderate and severe another Alzheimer’s medication may be added, Namenda. This medication is thought to slow down the process of some of the changes and allow the patient to keep their dignity for as long as possible when they can participate in their daily activities for a longer period of time.
Namenda is thought to control the release of glutamate in the brain. Glutamate in excess in the brain can lead to the death of the brain cells. The two different types of medication NMDA antagonist (Namenda) and the cholinesterase inhibitors work differently in the body. The effectiveness of these medications changes as the disease progresses.
Using Alzheimer medications can also help the caregiver some relief from the stress of caring for the patient as well as helping the patient to enjoy the time they have left.
Starting a drug regimen in a patient with Alzheime’rs disease is a juggling act between finding the right dose to treatment symptoms and a dose that is low enough that it doesn’t cause undue amount of side effect. The physician will normally start out at lower dosages to find an amount that treats the symptoms that the patient can live with comfortably. Going through this process requires the close supervision of both the physician and the caregiver.
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