Medications that cure or alter the course of Alzheimer’s disease don’t exist and whether they lessen the symptoms is a debatable topic. According to Consumer Reports, “The medications used to treat mental decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease are not particularly effective.
When compared to a placebo, most people who take one will not experience a meaningful benefit. And it is the rare person who has a significant delay in the worsening of their symptoms over time.” Consumer Reports? Yes, Consumer Reports – who better to provide unbiased information.
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Medication Management: A Caregiver’s Responsibility
Alzheimer’s caregivers are in a cruddy situation
You have no choice but to buy expensive drugs for your loved one, hoping, just hoping that by some luck your loved one will be one of the rare persons that experience a positive effect. If they do, you won’t even know and you likely won’t have the heart to take them off the medication.
Let’s be honest – you won’t be able to sleep at night if you don’t have them on some kind of medication. After all, that’s the approach that has been ingrained in our heads since we were young – take a pill to make it all better. And if a doctor doesn’t prescribe something, we think they’re not doing their job.
What is the purpose of Alzheimer’s medications?
As you should know by now, these drugs don’t cure Alzheimer’s; they are merely intended to slow the progression and ease the symptoms. But more than anything, they give the caregiver peace of mind that they are doing the best for their loved one.
Some argue there is only a placebo effect, and is the only value at all. Many argue they have seen benefits, however.
What are the medications for Alzheimer’s?
There are basically five medications prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease. Four of these five are in the same classification and work the same. The brand names for these four are: Aricept, Razadyne, Exelon, and Cognex (Cognex is no longer available due to safety concerns).
These four are prescribed for early to moderate stages. For moderate to late stage Alzheimer’s disease there is currently only one drug and its brand name is Namenda. Notice that both classifications are used during the moderate phase so it’s possible to be using both at the same time.
2015 Update: The FDA has recently approved Namzaric® (a combination of Namenda® and Aricept®) for the treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease.
The Namzaric website clearly states, “There is no evidence that NAMZARIC prevents or slows the underlying disease process in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.”
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Which Alzheimer’s medication should you use?
Consumer Report’s advice is “buy the one that is the cheapest and has the fewest side effects”. You may have to try different drugs to find the one that has the least side affects for your loved one. Remember: Do no harm – if these drugs cause side effects, you really must ask if it’s worth it.
How will you know they are working?
I hear sometimes that the caregiver sees an initial improvement (possible placebo effect). This effect seems to be short lived, however. After they have been medicated for a while, there will be a point, where you start wondering if the drug(s) are working.
But how will you know. You won’t. You can’t take them off of the drug – that just wouldn’t be fair to them, or would it? I do know caregivers that have made the decision to take their loved ones off of these medications so don’t be afraid if you have to make the same decision.
Again, I must say, you are in a cruddy situation.
For the full report and a more comprehensive discussion of these medications, please check out the Consumer Reports Evaluation.
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Introduction to Alzheimer’s Medications and Off-label Prescriptions
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Do you have any questions or experience with medications for Alzheimer’s, I would like to hear from you in the comments section below.