Drugs approved for Alzheimer’s disease

Several medications are available that can help with symptoms such as decline in memory, language, thinking abilities and motor skills. Although there is currently no cure for the disease, those who respond to medication can experience improvements in their quality of life that may last for several years. People respond differently to treatments and not everyone will respond to these medications.

Mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease

Three drugs are available in Canada to treat symptoms in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease:

All are cholinesterase inhibitors. Cholinesterase inhibitors help by improving the ability of impaired nerve endings to transmit messages from one nerve cell to another.  Depending on the medication, different side-effects may be experienced. These medications may be helpful for two to three years, possibly longer. Eventually, nerve endings degenerate to the point that medication is no longer helpful.

Moderate to advanced Alzheimer's disease

Ebixa® (memantine hydrochloride) has been conditionally approved to treat symptoms in people with moderate to advanced Alzheimer's disease. Aricept™ has been approved to treat symptoms in people with mild to moderate and advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

Neurotransmitters send messages across the space between nerve cells. As Alzheimer's disease progresses, the neurotransmitter glutamate leaks out of nerve cells and is reabsorbed at levels that are toxic to the cell. Memantine hydrochloride, known by the trade name Ebixa®, works by blocking the reabsorption of glutamate into nerve cells.

Ongoing research suggests that there may be greater benefit to using cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine hydrochloride together. However, more and larger trials are needed to confirm these results.
Medications are also available to help manage symptoms such as sleep disruption. Talk to your doctor to determine whether other medications may be helpful for you or the person you are caring for.

Medications for people diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease are only available by prescription to those under the care of a doctor.

Note: In areas of Canada where Alzheimer medications are now covered, individuals must meet specific clinical criteria for entitlement. These medications are covered by most private insurance plans.


Last Updated: 09/13/13