Dementia is a general term that describes a decline in a person’s ability to make decisions, remember, and think. It is not curable, but there are medications and treatments that may help manage dementia symptoms.
Dementia affects cognitive skills, such as memory, to the extent that it reduces a person’s ability to carry out everyday activities. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease.
There is currently no cure for any of the causes of dementia, but there are treatments that may help with slowing the progression of dementia and managing the symptoms.
This article discusses medications that slow dementia progression, medications that treat dementia symptoms, and other treatments for dementia.
To discover more evidence-based information and resources for Alzheimer’s & dementia, visit our dedicated hub.
Medications that slow dementia progression have only recently started to emerge. Currently, drugs with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to treat early Alzheimer’s disease include lecanemab and aducanumab.
Learn more about the early signs of dementia.
The FDA granted both drugs accelerated approval, which means the FDA considers them
Overall, this means people with early Alzheimer’s disease have more access to potential treatments despite the lack of new therapies for the condition.
Lecanemab and aducanumab are both immunotherapy drugs, meaning they
A person should speak with a healthcare professional about the potential side effects of lecanemab and aducanumab.
Lecanemab, which is available under the brand name Leqembi, is an anti-amyloid antibody therapy that is available as an intravenous (IV) therapy for cases of early Alzheimer’s disease where there are high levels of amyloid beta.
In 2021, a brand-name form of aducanumab called Aduhelm became the first treatment targeting one of the hallmark brain changes of Alzheimer’s disease to gain FDA approval.
Aducanumab works in a similar way to lecanemab. It is also an anti-amyloid antibody therapy, available in the form of IV infusion, for people with early Alzheimer’s disease.
Drugs that treat symptoms of dementia do not stop the damage Alzheimer’s disease causes to brain cells and therefore do not prevent cognitive decline. However, they can reduce or stabilize symptoms for some time. They do this by influencing chemicals that transport information within the brain, called neurotransmitters.
Medications that a healthcare professional may recommend include:
- cholinesterase inhibitors
- glutamate regulators
- combined cholinesterase inhibitor and glutamate regulator
A person may wish to speak with a healthcare professional about the potential side effects of these medications.
Learn more about medications for memory loss.
Cholinesterase inhibitors are a group of drugs that prevent the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which supports memory and learning, from breaking down. In doing so, the medication helps maintain more constant acetylcholine levels and enables more effective communication among nerve cells.
Some cholinesterase inhibitors
Cholinesterase inhibitors may help with symptoms that relate to:
Glutamate regulators control glutamate activity. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that helps the brain process information.
The most common glutamate regulator is memantine, which is one of the most recent medications for dementia symptoms to receive approval in the United States.
Glutamate regulators may help improve:
- ability to perform basic actions
Combined cholinesterase inhibitor and glutamate regulator
Namzaric is a drug for people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. It combines a cholinesterase inhibitor called donepezil and the glutamate regulator memantine.
A 2018 research review suggested that combining the two types of medications is
However, the researchers noted that while most evidence suggests that combining two medications is superior to using only one, it may complicate treatment plans for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.
Suvorexant is an orexin receptor antagonist. Orexin is a type of neurotransmitter involved in the sleep-wake cycle. Unlike the previous medications, suvorexant does not aim to reduce cognitive symptoms.
Sleep disturbance, including insomnia, is a key symptom of dementia. Suvorexant may effectively help with insomnia symptoms for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, as it has received
Research suggests that non-pharmaceutical approaches may stabilize cognitive decline and play a preventive role in dementia.
Some non-pharmaceutical treatments
- dietary changes, such as following the Mediterranean diet
- cognitive training
- physical exercise
- art-oriented therapy
- reminiscence therapy
Learn more about dementia therapies.
Non-pharmaceutical treatments typically target factors that may worsen dementia, including:
- cardiovascular disease
- hearing loss
- brain injury
A doctor may recommend using a combination of non-pharmaceutical treatments and medications. Non-pharmaceutical methods are also not limited by the stage of a person’s dementia, as they apply to people experiencing any level of dementia or any stage of Alzheimer’s disease.
A person should speak to a doctor when considering treatment options for dementia. Not everyone will have the same requirements, and a doctor can advise on what may be best according to each individual.
People should also discuss potential side effects before taking any medications and report any new or unexpected side effects they may be experiencing.
Dementia refers to a decline in cognitive function that affects a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.
There is currently no cure for dementia, but there are treatments that can slow its progression and help manage its symptoms. Dementia treatments primarily include medications, but there are also other approaches that may be helpful.
People should speak with a doctor when considering dementia treatments. A healthcare professional can make recommendations on an individual basis.