What Medications Are Used to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease?

Health Conditions

What Medications Are Used to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer's Disease
Libby Pellegrini, MMS, PA-C
By Libby Pellegrini, MMS, PA-C
Jun 24, 2020
A younger woman holding the hands of an elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease

The month of June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, an important health holiday that draws attention to the sixth leading cause of death in our country. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Unfortunately, it is a progressive disease, leading to memory loss and severe cognitive and functional decline. While there is no definitive cure, recent research has revealed more information about this deadly disease.

Continue reading to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and the insights that neuroscientists are garnering surrounding the disease.

Known Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease

Part of the puzzle of Alzheimer’s disease is that its cause is not clear. Alzheimer’s disease seems to be triggered by the abnormal growth of amyloid and tau proteins in the brain, which create plaques and tangle up in brain cells, interfering with their functioning. There are known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease—such as age, genetics, and, potentially, diet, and environment—however, a lot is still uncertain.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Advances sheds light on a possible trigger of the development of the abnormal brain proteins which trigger Alzheimer’s disease. Looking at human-brain like tissue in the lab, scientists were able to demonstrate that a common virus, the Herpes Simplex Type 1 virus, seems to induce the formation of plaques in brain cells. This is the first study of its type to show a direct connection of the virus and the mechanism for the induction of Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed, but knowing the direct cause of the disease could represent a landslide breakthrough when it comes to novel prevention and treatment options.

How Research Is Affecting Alzheimer’s Disease

Classically, Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed clinically, meaning that there is no single test that can prove the existence of the disease. Rather, clinicians make the diagnosis based on a pattern of behaviors and deficits. Direct examination of the brain tissue, after one’s demise, is the only way to definitively make an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis.

However, new methods are being studied to detect the disease. This is important, as sometimes the disease can lay dormant, smoldering for decades before symptoms finally manifest. If it can be detected earlier, preventive measures and treatments can be initiated sooner, helping to delay the progression of the disease.

New research is using antibodies to detect the specific proteins that lead to the development of amyloid plaques in the brain. These proteins are traditionally transient, and hard to quantify, but this new technique can help identify and quantify them, which could be beneficial not only from a diagnostic standpoint but also when it comes to therapeutic possibilities.

Medication to Treat Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease has no cure; however, medications are available for the treatment of symptoms. When it comes to the treatment of memory loss and cognitive decline, the FDA has approved two medication classes.

The first medication type is a cholinesterase-inhibitor, such as donepezil (Aricept), and the second is an NMDA receptor antagonist, such as memantine (Namenda).

Cholinesterase inhibitors, such as Aricept, improve the communication between brain cells by increasing the concentration of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. A neurotransmitter is a chemical that facilitates communication between brain cells; patients with Alzheimer’s disease have low levels of certain neurotransmitters. Cholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, so by inhibiting this enzyme with medication, more acetylcholine is available to aid communication between brain cells.

1. Donepezil For Alzheimer’s Disease

The RxSaver coupon price for donepezil at major retail pharmacies starts at $9.00*

NMDA receptor antagonists, such as Namenda, work by blocking the effect of a neurotransmitter called glutamate which can lead to overstimulation and abnormal brain activity. Increased glutamate activity has been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, so by blocking its function, this type of medication can improve Alzheimer’s symptoms.

2. Memantine For Alzheimer’s Disease

The RxSaver coupon price for memantine at major retail pharmacies starts at $106.60*

The average price for the generic version of Namenda, memantine, is around $15 for a one-month supply.

Neither of these medications can cure Alzheimer’s disease, but both can reduce symptoms and delay the progression of the disease.

Other medications can be used to help with Alzheimer’s symptoms of mood changes and sleep loss. If your medical provider prescribes you or your loved one medication to help with Alzheimer’s disease, make sure to use RxSaver to receive the lowest prescription price at the pharmacy.

*Average pricing based on the following dosages:

Donepezil: 10 mg / 30 tablets

Memantine: 2mg/ml / 150 bottles

Lowest online price at national pharmacy chains Costco, CVS, RiteAid, Walgreens and Walmart as of 07/30/2020. Prices vary by location and pharmacy, see RxSaver.com for actual pricing in your area.

Search RxSaver to determine if your medication is available for home delivery.

New Treatment Possibilities for Alzheimer’s Disease

Outside of pharmaceutical treatment options, researchers are exploring other ways to treat Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study examined the use of flashing lights and sounds to induce gamma waves in the brains of mice, in order to improve Alzheimer’s symptoms. In a series of sessions over seven days, neuroscientists found that the combination of auditory and visual stimulation reduced the presence of amyloid plaques in the brains of mice. This reduction had a dramatic positive impact on the memory and cognitive function of the mice.

A potential noninvasive treatment such as light therapy could have a significant impact on the progression and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease in humans, too. While more research is needed, it represents a positive new frontier for this devastating and often deadly affliction.

Libby Pellegrini, MMS, PA-C

Libby Pellegrini, MMS, PA-C

Libby Pellegrini, MMS, PA-C, is a nationally certified physician assistant. She currently works in emergency medicine where she sees and treats a broad spectrum of illnesses across all age ranges. She holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

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