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.
Related TinT Article:
How to Manage Medications for Better Alzheimer’s Care
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.”
Related TinT Article:
Antipsychotics Should be a Last Resort in Dementia Care
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.
I find it very sad that we spend all of this money on a placebo rather than invest it in a potential cure. I wonder how many folks understand that at best it has an alleged effect on less than two percent of those who use it? Alzheimer’s has been Pharma’s biggest failure yet (not counting the complicit decision with the FDA to produce other drugs that cause rampant side effects and death) and it is still being advertised as a legitimate and useful purchase. Folks should be no less upset about these companies than when they react to coconut oil or turmeric?? Please don’t misunderstand that Pharma and research have collaborated to cure many ailments for humanity, but when they just don’t work, we should not be led to believe that they may for some folks. Attempting to recoup their investment buy selling ineffective drugs is unethical. Take your losses and move on, This is why anticipating the public sector will move forward without the government investing in a cure doesn’t work. Ten years we have allowed funding to the NIH devalue and have yet to step up and fund research for such a huge problem, both physically for the afflicted and financially and emotionally for the families!
Mike Good says
I definitely agree Ed. I now know two doctors who do not have their own parents on these medications due to the side effects. I do, however, often hear caregivers say the medications have worked for their loved one; whether this is true or not, I guess it has brought hope and some level of comfort to them, and that is important. Thanks for sharing.
Any comfort in this storm is truly a blessing!
norman duncan says
Mike, good material and proves the need for a war on early onset diagnosis and remission. Ethelle Lord has a dementia program that has helped vascular, you might contact her.
Mike Good says
Thank you Norman, and I definitely agree.
Marcy Baskin says
I am an ElderCare Manager and also a survivor of having a parent with Alzheimer’s Disease. When my beautiful Mom was in the middle stages of the disease, her primary care physician prescribed Aricept and Namenda, stating that this was cutting edge thinking that the combination of the two drugs provided significant changes in symptoms and would slow the progression of the disease. He never explained the side effects, never shared the research that has been discussed in these postings about how many people actually get any benefit from this cocktail, and how the marginal benefits of the medications basically peter out after 12-18 months. He also strongly suggested that I do not take Mom off the drugs because she would likely experience a very sharp decline.
So there I was, with the hope I was so desperate to have and my Mom taking these worthless meds. She declined at an alarming pace, which can often happen with AD, with or without medication . I was, in the conundrum of wondering what her decline would look like if I took her off the medication as compared to what I was seeing. I finally decided to do just that (take her off the meds), along with her blood pressure meds, statins, etc. It made no difference and she died within one year. There is nothing in me that believes that staying on medication would have prolonged her life. And there is that other quetion as to whether or not family members actually WANT to delay the inevitable for someone who has little quality of life.
This disease is relentless and I find it abhorrent that some physicians prescribe because they want to assuage the family, please pharma, or simply feel badly that they are unable to help someone toward a cure. I think each doctor has her/his own reasons but it is time for everyone to take a closer look and ask better questions. I am also of the mind that PCPs should not be prescribing Aricept, Namenda, or psychotropic drugs. I always suggest a referral to a neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist for medication protocols.
These days, we know that although there is no cure, there are compassionate behavioral therapies that at least can bring a smile, a memory, and even connection to a patient’s life. Some pharmaceutical companies are, in all fairness, conducting research studies and trials on medications. But let’s not fund this research by spending our money on very questionable drugs. The Alzheimer’s Association raises millions of dollars for research to supplement the paltry amount our government earmarks for Alzheimer’s Research. We can all do our part by participating in the Walk for Alzheimer’s (our Walk in 2016 raised $378,000!) and investigate other ways to help.
It may be too late for our elders but hey, Baby Boomers, we are NEXT! Let’s get on it!
Mike Good says
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and suggestions. It’s my hope that other caregivers get comfort and strength in reading your comment.
Connie Bohager says
This comment is for Mary Baskin. I am a firm believer that Pharma is really not interested in curing any disease. They and the medical doctors would much rather “treat” people than cure them! In ancient China, the medicine man was only paid when people were well. They treated the cause of disease, not the symptoms. Western medicine is opposite and if you think about it nothing has been cured since polio! You did the best thing by taking your mom of statin drugs. They are at the top of the list at causing dementia like symptoms and do little good to lower cholesterol. In fact by reducing cholesterol, a person’s blood pressure will increase. That’s another lesson. Since early onset dementia is on the rise, Gen X and Gen Y need to get prepared to care for mom and dad!
Connie Bohager says
This has been my take for years. Not sure if you have heard of Dr. Bredesen or not. He has had tremendous positive success identifying the 3 main causes of Alzheimer’s disease and has restored 9 out of 10 people to “normal” brain function through individualized protocols without drugs! As a nurse I know that the ingredients in drugs are extremely harmful, in fact I can point to specific medications that cause brain failure and ones that cause kidney failure that no should be taking. Yet, they are commonly prescribed. There are lifestyle changes that people can make, but what I find in my practice is that most people are not willing to change. This to me is very sad.