There are currently about 4 commonly prescribed medications for Alzheimer’s disease. Three fall into the class known as “Cholinesterase inhibitors,” which work to increase the chemical acetylcholine in the brain, which is involved with learning and memory. The fourth medication, Namenda (generic name: memantine), works to reduce glutamate activity in the brain, a chemical that seems to be involved in damaging the brain.
The cholinesterase inhibitors are most commonly used as a first-line therapy. There are three available: Aricept (donepezil), Exelon (rivastigmine), and Razadyne (galantamine). A very important point is that if you have intolerable side effects to one of these medications, you can still try another one and you might do better. Similarly, if you or your loved one does not have a good response to one of these, ask your healthcare provider about trying a different one.
Namenda (memantine) is FDA-approved for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s, although some healthcare providers will also use it in earlier stages. Namenda can be used in combination with one of the above cholinesterase inhibitors, since it works in a different way.
This was a very quick review of commonly prescribed medications for Alzheimer’s. Please let us know if you have specific questions about any of the agents mentioned!