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This article discusses some of the drugs used to treat dementia or common dementia medications. This includes drugs approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease which may improve memory and thinking, and also treat accompanying symptoms such as depression and anxiety. It also suggests questions that people with dementia, their families and careers should ask their doctor before being prescribed any of these common dementia medications.

Dementia refers to the various symptoms that can cause a progressive and unstoppable decline in a person’s brain function. Unfortunately, there’s no drug or treatment available that can totally cure dementia and prevent the symptoms from coming back, at least at the time of this writing. However, there are common dementia medications that can help with some of the symptoms.

Dementia Medications: Drug Treatments for Symptoms

There are various drugs that are available today in the U.S. and in most parts of the world when it comes to treating the cognitive and memory problems that are being experienced by patients diagnosed with a type of dementia, especially the most common ones called Lewy body disease and vascular dementia, as well as those with Alzheimer’s disease. These medications fall into two categories; cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine.

Cholinesterase inhibitors

Common Dementia medications that fall under the cholinesterase inhibitors category can help lessen the brain symptoms for patients who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. These drugs may also help improve their thinking and memory for a period of time. It works by increasing the levels of a brain chemical called acetylcholine which helps in memory recall. They can also provide benefits for some people with Lewy body disease or vascular dementia. However, cholinesterase inhibitor drugs can have side effects which most commonly include stomach upsets.


The second category is memantine. This type of dementia medication works on the brain chemical known as glutamate which is usually present in high levels for patients diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Just like cholinesterase inhibitor drugs, it can help improve thinking and daily functions for only a period of time. Memantine is usually prescribed for patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. There are some patients who claimed that memantine type of drugs have side effects but it’s only mild. Side effects can include hallucinations, confusion, dizziness, headache and tiredness.

Dementia Medications: How to get treatment

Specialist physicians like a psychiatrist, neurologist or psycho geriatrician are the ones who can prescribe the appropriate dementia medications. They will determine which kinds of drugs are best for the patient whether it is a cholinesterase inhibitor or memantine. Doctors use mental function examinations to determine if the patient is showing improvement after taking dementia medications. The treatment usually lasts for six months before physicians can see if there’s any improvement and if the patient can receiver further supplies of subsidized medication.

Dementia patients usually experience mental and behavioral symptoms which can be a great source of stress not just for them but also for their caregivers and loved one.

These may include depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, hallucinations, ideas of persecution, agitation and aggression. These symptoms may respond to reassurance, a change in the environment or removal of the source of any distress such as pain. It’s very important to determine the causes or triggers of such behavioral disturbances so that one can deal with it faster. Dementia medications are often used as a last resort, and it will depend if the physician thinks it is necessary at the moment depending on the severity or stage of the condition.


Dementia medications also include anti – psychotics, and it’s used to help patients who are suffering from severe forms of psychotic symptom particularly hallucination/ delusion as well as aggression or agitation. The older type of antipsychotics such as haloperidol is no longer widely used unlike before. These drugs can have major side effects such as sedation, dizziness, unsteadiness and symptoms that resemble those of Parkinson’s disease (shakiness, slowness and stiffness of the limbs).

Anti – psychotic drugs like risperidone and olanzapine have fewer side effects and are more commonly prescribe by physicians today. Unfortunately, anti – psychotics won’t always be helpful, and may also be linked with an increased risk of stroke. If an antipsychotic drug is used, make sure to regularly and carefully monitor the patient. Antipsychotics are also not prescribed for for people with Lewy body disease because it’s dangerous for their health.

Dementia Medications for Treating Depression

Depressive symptoms are very common in people diagnosed with dementia. It should definitely treat since it can make cognitive problems much worse in the long run, and can eventually diminish the quality of the patient’s life. Depression is often treated through using antidepressant drugs, but care must be taken to ensure that this is done with only mild types of side effects.D

Dementia Medications: Drugs for treating sleep disturbance

Sleep disturbance usually includes sleepwalking, insomnia, nighttime wandering, and the likes. Obviously, this can cause a lot of difficulties, especially for caregivers. There are dementia medications that can cause sedation during the day but it can also reduce the need for sleeping pills at night. However, sleep disturbance medications should be the last resort to prevent the patient from becoming dependent on it. If the patient does, then the withdrawal of such medications will definitely cause relapse and can produce more anxiety or worsen sleeplessness symptoms. 

Keep in Mind!

  • All drugs can cause some form of side effects, some of which may make the patient’s conditions worse.
  • Make sure to ask the physician why a particular drug is being prescribed and what side effects might occur.
  • A medication that is useful for the time being may not continue to be effective indefinitely due to the progressive changes happening in the brain that’s caused by dementia.
  • Don’t expect fast result; benefits may take several weeks to appear especially if antidepressants are prescribed. Make sure to ask this to your doctor.
  • It is essential that dementia treatment is reviewed on a regular basis. Keep a record of all medications, including alternative medications and vitamin supplements. Take this record to all medical appointments, and discuss it with your doctor.
  • Many people with dementia take a number of dementia medications for different symptoms. It is important to discuss with the doctor any impact that medications may have on each other.

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