People with memory loss experience greater than expected levels of forgetfulness and may have difficulty with both short- and long-term memory recall. Medications, such as cholinesterase inhibitors and glutamate regulators, can treat memory loss. They can help manage a person’s memory loss symptoms and modify the progression of their condition.

It is typical for people to have mild memory lapses over time. This is age-related and should not cause concern.

However, when memory loss occurs more frequently and affects a person’s daily activities, they should contact a doctor to discuss their symptoms and how their memory loss affects them.

This article outlines the various medications for memory loss, their indications, and potential side effects.

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No drug treatment can effectively cure memory loss. The National Institute of Aging (NIA) states that people should avoid any treatment that promises to restore brain function and improve memory. The organization further notes that these medications are typically unsafe and can cause negative drug interactions with other medications.

However, certain medications can help individuals ease the symptoms and manage the condition’s progression. Health experts recommend that those with memory loss follow doctor-approved prescriptions only.

For most people with memory loss, a doctor will recommend one of the below types of drugs. Medications with approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat memory loss symptoms include:

Cholinesterase inhibitors

Doctors prescribe cholinesterase inhibitors to manage various conditions affecting memory, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. They work by blocking the enzyme cholinesterase from breaking down acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine is a chemical messenger that plays a vital role in memory and learning. Scientists believe that increasing the levels of acetylcholine in the brain can help maintain memory and delay worsening symptoms.

Examples of cholinesterase inhibitors include:

Glutamate regulators

Glutamate is the most common neurotransmitter in the brain. It can excite nerve cells to their death through a process known as excitotoxicity.

Excitotoxic cell death can cause neurodegenerative conditions that affect memory. Glutamate regulators control the amount of glutamate in the central nervous system to an optimal level.

One example of a glutamate regulator is memantine (Namenda). Memantine is an N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor antagonist that stops calcium from invading the neurons and causing nerve injury.

Doctors may prescribe memantine alone or alongside a cholinesterase inhibitor due to its minimal side effects.

Cholinesterase inhibitor and glutamate regulator drug combination

This combination of donepezil and Namenda is available under the brand-name prescription drug Namzaric.

Additional evidence suggests combining the two classes of drugs is more effective than using only one medication.

The researchers note that while it is superior to single drug therapy, it can complicate treatment plans for patients and their caregivers.

Aducanumab

Aducanumab is the first-line treatment for people with early stage Alzheimer’s disease and is available in the United States under the brand name Aduhelm. Doctors may also prescribe it for other mild cognitive impairments.

Aduhelm is a biologic drug comprising living cells. It destroys plaques of toxic protein known as beta-amyloid. This is the protein that researchers believe plays a role in the cognitive decline of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Below is a table of memory loss medications, including drug information and side effects.

Generic name / brand nameDrug typeDrug indicationSide effects
donepezil (Aricept)cholinesterase inhibitordementia relating to Alzheimer’s disease

doctors can prescribe it off label for the following conditions:
• traumatic brain injury
• vascular dementia
• Lewy body dementia
• Parkinson’s disease dementia



• nausea
• diarrhea
• vomiting
• insomnia
• muscle cramps
• fatigue
• anorexia
• hypertension
• edema
• hypotension
galantamine (Razadyne)cholinesterase inhibitordementia relating to Alzheimer’s disease
headache
• weight loss
• low appetite
• skin reactions
• sinus bradycardia
• atrioventricular blockage
• slow heart rate
• stomach ulcer
• gastrointestinal bleeding
• other common side effects of cholinesterase inhibitors
rivastigmine (Exelon)cholinesterase inhibitordementia due to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease• involuntary movements
• muscular contractions
• tremors
• general irritability
• sleep disturbances
• increased risk of death from long-term use
memantine (Namenda)glutamate regulator and NMDA receptor antagonistmoderate to severe memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease• dizziness
• headache
• confusion
• constipation
Donepezil and memantine (Namzaric)cholinesterase inhibitor + glutamate regulatormoderate to severe memory loss due to Alzheimer’s disease• high level of stomach acid
• seizure
• breathing difficulty
• diarrhea
• slow heartbeat
• anorexia
• urinary hesitancy
Aducanumab (Aduhelm)monoclonal antibodymild cognitive impairment or dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease• edema
• falls
• delirium
• hypersensitivity
• immunogenicity

Several health-related conditions can cause memory loss. Often, these causes may occur individually or together and usually resolve after treatment. These includes:

  • Alzheimer’s disease: Memory loss is one of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. A person with the condition may have difficulty remembering important information and completing daily tasks.
  • Aging: Aging can change the structures and chemistry of the brain, affecting a person’s ability to learn new information and retrieve previously known information. The symptoms of age-related memory loss are usually mild and temporary.
  • Medications: Certain medications can interfere with the brain’s chemistry and lead to short- and long-term memory loss. However, this often resolves with medication changes. Examples of medications that may cause memory loss include psychoactive drugs, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and nonpsychoactive drugs. Older adults are also more likely to develop drug-induced cognitive impairment than young adults. This may be due to drug toxicity from impaired liver and kidney functions.
  • Head trauma: Moderate to severe traumatic brain injury from sports or accidents can affect the retention of short- and long-term memory.
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD): According to a 2022 study, heavy alcohol consumption or alcohol use disorder (AUD) can lead to the loss of brain cells called neurons and cause cognitive decline.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency: People with a vitamin B12 deficiency have a greater likelihood of memory loss and other cognitive issues. This may be due to poor myelination — a condition that damages the myelin sheath that covers the nerve fibers in the brain.
  • Stress: Research from 2016 suggests that stress affects memory in a time-dependent fashion. Stress can affect the formation of short- and long-term memory, the type of memories a person forms, and the ability to recall vital information.
  • Depression: According to a 2018 study,people with one or more symptoms of depression can have memory complaints. Another paper from 2016 notes that some antidepressants can cause memory loss.
  • Sleep deprivation: People who lack quality sleep can have memory issues, which can directly affect their daytime activities.
  • Other causes: People with certain conditions, such as COVID-19, herpes, HIV, gum disease, Lyme disease, syphilis, urinary tract infection, and lung infections, may have a higher risk of neurological complications, including memory loss. Other causes may include diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, renal dysfunction, endocrine disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and other neurodegenerative conditions. In many instances, treating the underlying infection can resolve the memory loss.

A person should contact a doctor if they are experiencing any of these symptoms:

  • getting lost in familiar places
  • asking the same questions repeatedly
  • having difficulty following instructions and directions
  • taking much longer to complete everyday tasks
  • difficulty remembering names and faces of close friends and family members
  • mixing up words during conversations
  • inability to take care of oneself by eating a diet lacking in nutrition, not bathing, and behaving unsafely

In addition, a person should speak with a doctor if they are experiencing any side effects from using a memory loss prescription medication. The doctor can help map out a plan. They can either reduce the dose or switch to a different medication to relieve any worsening symptoms from side effects.

Research from 2020 suggests that there are presently no disease-modifying medications for memory loss.

Cholinesterase inhibitors and NMDA glutamate regulators can only stop memory loss symptoms for a short time. However, they cannot stop or reverse the progression of the condition.

Additional research can help scientists understand the effectiveness of amyloid clearing therapies and produce novel drug therapies.

Without medication, symptoms of memory loss can become severe.

Few medications are available to help manage memory loss. The severity of a person’s memory loss and the underlying cause will indicate the most suitable drug therapy.

Cholinesterase inhibitors are the first choice of treatment for memory loss. The doctor may also prescribe the single-dose drug combination Namzeric to treat moderate to severe memory loss.

If memory loss is due to vitamin B12 deficiency, taking the vitamin through diet or nutritional supplement can help correct the condition. A memory loss due to a traumatic brain injury may require surgery.

The doctor will evaluate a person’s symptoms and determine the best treatment for memory loss.