Different types of dementia affect many people as they age, but the good news is that while it is not curable, it is often treatable. Despite the fact that dementia medication cannot completely stop the condition from worsening, nor reverse damage already done, it can usually slow its progression, reduce the symptoms, and generally improve the quality of life. The majority of the drugs that have been approved for dementia focus on improving symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease, as this condition accounts for the majority of dementia cases. Most forms of dementia medication are considered cholinesterase inhibitors, which can help improve memory, though another drug called memantine gets the same results using a different method. There are also various drugs on the market that focus on improving certain symptoms of dementia, such as depression and sleep disorders.
One of the most common types of dementia medication is called a cholinesterase inhibitor. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that helps form memories properly, so it should not be surprising to find that those with Alzheimer's disease have less of this substance than they should, since their body starts breaking it down. The job of cholinesterase inhibitors is to slow the destruction of acetylcholine in the brain, resulting in improved memory and fewer behavioral issues in those suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The four main types of this dementia medication include donepezil, tacrine, galantamine, and rivastigmine.
Another dementia medication results in the same type of memory improvement, but it uses a different method than cholinesterase inhibitors. Memantine focuses on affecting a different neurotransmitter altogether, called glutamate, which is responsible for helping control memory and learning ability. Not surprisingly, glutamate is often not used properly in the brain when Alzheimer's disease is present, so memantine's ability to regulate this neurotransmitter can help keep symptoms at bay. In fact, memantine and cholinesterase inhibitors work differently, which means that they can be combined to create a marked improvement in brain function for most patients.
Alzheimer's disease is not the only form of dementia, but there are few medications available that specifically treat other forms. For example, there is no treatment just for vascular dementia or Parkinson's dementia, but both may be treated with cholinesterase inhibitors to help improve the symptoms that they have in common with Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, all types of dementia may be treated with medications that address concurrent issues, such as depression, sleep disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, or blood clots. For this reason, many dementia patients may take antidepressants, sedatives, and warfarin, to name a few helpful medications.