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Razadyne, Exelon, Aricept, Cognex, and Namenda are medications used for Alzheimer's disease. The first four are thought to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine. The fifth works a little differently. Researchers believe that Namenda regulates glutamate, a brain chemical that may lead to brain cell death when produced in excessive amounts.

What Medications Are Used for Alzheimer's Disease?

There are currently five prescription Alzheimer's disease medications that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat people who have been diagnosed with this condition. While these medications cannot cure Alzheimer's or slow the progression of the disease, they can help control a person's symptoms.
Treating the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can provide people with comfort, dignity, and independence for a longer period, and can encourage and assist their caregivers as well. As mentioned, it is important to understand that none of these medications will stop the disease.

Medications for Mild-to-Moderate Alzheimer's

Of the five Alzheimer's disease medications, four are called cholinesterase inhibitors. These drugs are prescribed for the treatment of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's. They may help delay or prevent symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time and may help control some behavioral symptoms.
These four medications are:
Aricept and the Exelon Patch are also approved to treat severe symptoms of Alzheimer's.
Scientists do not yet fully understand how cholinesterase inhibitors work to treat Alzheimer's disease, but current research indicates that they prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine -- a chemical believed to be important for memory and thinking. As the disease progresses, the brain produces less and less acetylcholine. Therefore, cholinesterase inhibitors may eventually lose their effect.
Currently, there are no published studies that directly compare these drugs. Therefore, because all four medications work in a similar way, it is not expected that switching from one of these to another will produce significantly different results. However, a person with Alzheimer's disease may respond better to one drug than another. It is important to note that Cognex® (tacrine) is no longer actively marketed by the manufacturer.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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