Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Loss of Memory due to Alzheimers Drugs

Medications used to treat Alzheimer's disease include:

  • Donepezil (Aricept)
    • This drug is called a cholinesterase inhibitor because it blocks the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetyl choline in the brain.
    • Low levels of acetyl choline in some regions of the brain are thought to be responsible for some Alzheimer's symptoms.
    • Donepezil is approved for use at all stages of the disease: mild, moderate, and severe
    • May improve mental function (such as memory) in some patients. Will not work in roughly half of all users.
    • Side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and insomnia.
  • Tacrine (Cognex)
    • This drug is also a cholinesterase inhibitor because it blocks the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetyl choline in the brain.
    • May improve mental function (such as memory) in some patients.
    • Side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, rash, abdominal pain, and indigestion.
    • Less commonly tacrine may cause liver damage so blood tests (liver profile) need to be monitored when taking the drug.
  • Memantine (Namenda, Axura)
    • Works by affecting the metabolism of glutamate in the brain. Glutamate plays a role in memory and learning. In Alzheimer's there is too much glutamate and memantine helps regulate glutamate levels in the brain.
    • Approved for use in moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease.
    • May improve mental function (such as memory) in some patients.
    • May work better when used in combination with other Alzheimer's drugs such as donepezil, tacrine, rivastigmine, or galantamine.
    • Side effects include fatigue, confusion, dizziness, and headache.
  • Galantamine (Razadyne, Razadyne ER)
    • This drug is called a cholinesterase inhibitor because it blocks the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetyl choline in the brain.
    • Most effective when given at early stages of the disease.
    • May improve mental function (such as memory) in some patients.
    • Side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and insomnia.
    • Rare deaths have been reported from heart attack and stroke.
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon, Exelon patch)
    • This drug is called a cholinesterase inhibitor because it blocks the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetyl choline in the brain.
    • Most effective when given at early stages of the disease.
    • May improve mental function (such as memory) in some patients.
    • Side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and insomnia.
    • Rare deaths have been reported from heart attack and stroke.

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Last Updated: Nov 10, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Loss of Memory due to Alzheimers References
  1. Doody RS. Refining treatment guidelines in Alzheimer's disease. Geriatrics. 2005 Jun;Suppl:14-20. [16025771]
  2. Kaduszkiewicz H, Zimmermann T, Beck-Bornholdt HP, van den Bussche H. Cholinesterase inhibitors for patients with Alzheimer's disease: systematic review of randomised clinical trials. BMJ. 2005 Aug 6;331(7512):321-7. [16081444]
  3. Morris JC. Mild cognitive impairment and preclinical Alzheimer's disease. Geriatrics. 2005 Jun;Suppl:9-14. [16025770]
  4. Panza F, D'Introno A, Colacicco AM, et al. Current epidemiology of mild cognitive impairment and other predementia syndromes. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2005 Aug;13(8):633-44. [16085779]
  5. Potyk D. Treatments for Alzheimer disease. South Med J. 2005 Jun;98(6):628-35. [16004170]
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