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What are the Different Types of Dementia Medication?

Autumn Rivers
Updated Feb 02, 2024
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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.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Autumn Rivers
By Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for WiseGeek, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Sep 12, 2014

The tricky aspect of dementia disease is that the person with the disease is changing so much almost daily that if you try to treat all of the symptoms then you will end up giving him or her a long list of medicines. And each of these medications has its own list of side effects. It's just a constant and confusing battle.

By Animandel — On Sep 12, 2014

@Drentel - I agree that you cannot know for certain whether the dementia symptoms are being slowed by the dementia medications. However, I do know someone whose father had Alzheimer's. He started on medications as soon as he was diagnosed, and with the help of neighbors checking in on him, he was able to live alone in his own home for ten years after he was first diagnosed.

Eventually, he moved in with his daughter, but even then he was able to function well for years, before he finally needed 24-hour care, and he went into an assisted living facility's dementia unit.

By Drentel — On Sep 11, 2014

When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, the doctors clearly explained to us that she was not going to get better. When you learn someone you love has dementia, you're first thought is how can we make her better, make her return to her normal self. Even though the doctors told us this was not going to happen, my father help out hope for a long time.

The doctor told us there were some drugs that were relatively new that might slow the stages of dementia. This was years ago, so I guess the medicines are more effective today. Either way, the drugs didn't seem to help much, but how can you say for sure? We saw her getting worse. We had no way of knowing whether the drugs were slowing the process or not. All we saw was her slipping away.

Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for WiseGeek, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
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