Alzheimer’s is a serious disease that causes memory loss, disorientation, confusion, and problems with reasoning and thinking. The condition is the most common form of dementia, and eventually causes total loss of mental function. Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there are many treatments available. The drugs available for treatment cannot alter the progressive loss of cells, but they can stabilize the symptoms of the disease. Using the medications may also delay the need for nursing home care. The treatments for the disease include Cholinesterase inhibitors, Memantine, and Vitamin E. The Food and Drug Administration(FDA) approved two classes of drugs for treatment of cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Cholinesterase inhibitors were the first of two Alzheimer medications approved by the FDA. The three common cholinesterase inhibitors prescribed are donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine. Donepezil(Aricept®) is approved by the FDA for use in all stages of the Alzheimer’s disease. Rivastigmine(Exelon®) is approved for treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Galantamine(Razadyne®) was also approved for treatment of mild to moderate stages of the disease. Another cholinesterase inhibitor was approved by the FDA in 1993, but it is rarely used. Tacrine(Cognex®) was the first cholinesterase inhibitor, but it is rarely used because it may cause possible liver damage, and other dangerous side effects. The inhibitors were designed to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, which is a chemical messenger in the brain that is essential for memory and thinking skills.
The drugs are used to keep acetylcholine levels high, even when the cells that produce the chemical messenger continue to die. Approximately, half of the individuals who take cholinesterase inhibitors experience a moderate improvement in the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Memantine(Namenda®) was approved by the FDA in 2003 for the treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. This drug is classified as an uncompetitive low-to-moderate affinity N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, which is the first Alzheimer treatment of this type approved in the U.S. Memantine works by regulating the activity of glutamate, which is one of the brain’s specialized messenger chemicals involved in information processing, storage, and retrieval.
The messenger chemical, glutamate has an essential role in learning and memory. The chemical triggers NMDA receptors to allow a controlled amount of calcium to be released into a nerve cell, creating the chemical environment needed for information storage. If there is an excessive amount of glutamate, then the NMDA receptors will be overstimulated, and too much calcium will flow into nerve cells, causing disruption and death of cells. Memantine can protect cells against excess glutamate by partially blocking the NMDA receptors.
Vitamin E supplements may also be used as treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, because they may help protect brain cells against attacks. Cell functions may create free radicals, which are a type of oxygen molecule that can damage cell structures and genetic material. The damage done by free radicals is called oxidative stress, and may have a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Aging causes some of the bodies natural defenses to decline, including the body’s ability to create the antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. Taking vitamin E supplements can help effectively fight the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.