People with Alzheimer’s disease can take drugs to treat the disease itself, mood or behavior changes, and other medical conditions. Caregivers can make sure medications are taken safely and correctly. Here are some tips to help you manage medication for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
Learn the basics
Know each drug (prescription and nonprescription) that the person with Alzheimer’s disease takes. Ask the doctor or pharmacist:
- What is this medicine used for?
- What positive effects should I look for and when?
- How long will the person need to take it?
- What is the dose and how often should he take the medicine?
- What if the person misses a dose?
- What are the side effects and what can I do about them?
- Can this medicine cause problems if taken with other medicines?
Managing medications is easier if you have a complete list. The list should include the name of the medication, the doctor who prescribed it, how much the person with Alzheimer’s takes, and how often. Visit Tracking Your Medications: Worksheet for a model. Keep the list in a safe place at home and make a copy to keep in your purse or wallet, or save a photo to your phone. Take it with you when you visit the person’s doctor or pharmacist.
People with Alzheimer’s disease should be monitored when they start taking a new medicine. Follow the doctor’s instructions and report any unusual symptoms immediately. Also, notify the doctor before adding or changing any medications.
Using medications safely
People with Alzheimer’s disease often need help taking their medication. If the person lives alone, you may need to call and remind them or leave notes around the house. A pill organizer allows you to put the tablets for each day in the same place. Some pill organizers come with alarms that remind a person to take the medication.
As Alzheimer’s disease gets worse, you will need to keep track of the person’s medications. You will also need to make sure that the person is taking or giving the medicine.
Some people with Alzheimer’s disease take drugs to treat behavior problems such as restlessness, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and aggression. Experts agree that drugs to treat behavior problems should only be used after trying other strategies that do not use drugs. Talk to the person’s doctor about the safest and most effective medications. With these types of medications, it is important to:
- Use the lowest possible dose.
- Watch for side effects such as confusion and falls.
- Wait a few weeks for the medicine to take effect.
It is recommended that people with Alzheimer’s disease DO NOT take anticholinergic drugs. These drugs are used to treat many medical conditions such as sleep problems, stomach cramps, incontinence, asthma, motion sickness, and muscle spasms. Side effects, such as confusion, can be serious for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. These drugs should NOT be given to someone with Alzheimer’s disease. You may want to discuss other options with the person’s doctor. Examples of these drugs are:
- Ipratropium – brand name Atrovent
- Dimenhydrinate – brand name Dramamine
- Diphenhydramine – includes brand names such as Benadryl and Nytol
Some people, especially those with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, may have difficulty swallowing pills. In this case, ask the pharmacist if the medicine can be crushed or taken in liquid form. Here are other ways to make sure medications are taken safely:
- Keep all medications locked up.
- Check that the label on each prescription vial shows the name and dose of the medicine, the name of the patient, the frequency of dosing, and the expiry date.
- Call the doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about any medication.
Drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease
Several prescription drugs are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help manage symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s disease. For some people, these medications can help slow down certain problems, such as memory loss. Slowing down memory loss can make many people with Alzheimer’s disease more comfortable and independent for longer.
In 2021, the FDA approved a new drug, aducanumab, through the fast-track approval path. The drug helps reduce amyloid deposits in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, but it has not yet been shown to affect symptoms or clinical outcomes, such as progression of cognitive decline or dementia.
Most medications work best for people with early or middle stage Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is important to understand that none of these drugs can cure or stop Alzheimer’s disease. Visit How is Alzheimer’s disease treated? for more information on drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease and behavioral symptoms.
Medicines to treat other medical conditions
Many people with Alzheimer’s disease also suffer from other health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. They can take different medications for these conditions. It is important to keep track of all the medications they take and to take the list with you to every doctor visit.
For more information on drug payment, see Save money on drugs.
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For more information on Alzheimer’s disease
NIA Center for Education and Guidance on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADEAR)
800-438-4380 (toll free)
The NIA ADEAR Center offers free print information and publications on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias for families, caregivers and healthcare professionals. The staff of the ADEAR Center responds to requests by telephone, email and in writing and directs people to local and national resources.
Explore the Alzheimers.gov portal for information and resources on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias from across the federal government.
This content is provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure it is accurate and up to date.
Content revised: August 25, 2021