In the UK, people living with certain types of dementia, can be prescribed treatments to help manage their symptoms.

These are known as symptomatic treatments. They include donepezil (part of a family of medicines called cholinesterase inhibitors) and memantine. These are available on the NHS.

Cholinesterase Inhibitors

This type of medication is prescribed to people with mild symptoms of Alzheimer's or dementia with Lewy bodies. These are:

  • donepezil (Aricept)
  • rivastigmine (Exelon)
  • galantamine (Reminyl)

Memantine

Memantine (Ebixa or Axura) is prescribed to people with moderate or severe Alzheimer’s disease, and to people with mild Alzheimer’s if cholinesterase inhibitors are not suitable.

People with moderate or severe Alzheimer’s disease are sometimes offered both a cholinesterase inhibitor and memantine to take together. Research has found that this can offer more effective help with symptoms than using one of the medications alone.

Are dementia medications effective?

Symptomatic treatments help alleviate the impact dementia can have on daily life.

They can stabilise or improve a person’s symptoms, like thinking and memory problems, for some time and help them to maintain their ability to carry out some daily activities.

 

However, these treatments do not work well for everybody.

Some people may only feel a benefit for a short amount of time, while others may find the treatments do not help them at all.

This is because every person’s experience of dementia is unique.

 

Unfortunately, symptomatic treatments cannot stop the diseases that cause dementia from progressing, so people will continue to get worse over time.

This is because these drugs cannot fix damage to brain cells that has already happened or stop further damage from happening.

This is why ongoing research and the projects we fund are so important. Research is the only path to find a way to slow dementia down and one day find a cure.

 

Research is also focused on improving the way dementia is diagnosed. This is important.

Current treatments can only be prescribed for people living with dementia once they have seen a doctor and have a diagnosis.

The brain changes that cause dementia can start happening around 15 to 20 years before symptoms start to appear, and it is when symptoms appear that a person might seek a diagnosis.

This means that people receiving the available symptomatic treatments are often already living with moderate to severe dementia symptoms.

To make real progress for people in future, it will be important to be able to diagnose dementia at much earlier stages, before noticeable symptoms appear, and research is finding ways to do this.

Find out more

You can find out more about current diagnosis and treatments for each type of dementia on the following pages:

 

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Order health information

Alzheimer’s Research UK has a wide range of information about dementia. Order booklets or download them from our online form.

Treatments for dementia

Read more about treatments for dementia, including information on treating depression, anxiety and agitation and for information on antipsychotics.

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Dementia Research Infoline

Do you have questions about treatments for Alzheimer's disease? Keen to get involved in research studies to trial new treatments?

Contact the Dementia Research Infoline

9am-5pm, Monday to Friday

0300 111 5 111

infoline@alzheimersresearchuk.org