A guide to memory loss medications
Everyone experiences memory loss from time to time, and it only gets more common as you age. If you notice your memory loss gets increasingly worse, you should consult a doctor.
Progressive memory loss can be due to serious chronic health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease that cause dementia and cognitive decline.
Signs that you may need medication to help slow the progression of your memory loss include getting lost in places you know well and behaving unsafely.
But several prescription medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are available to help stabilize memory loss.
Can medication help with memory loss?
If you notice slight forgetfulness or confusion that has no effect on your life and doesn’t get any worse, it’s likely just a natural part of the aging process.
But if your symptoms of memory loss get more severe to the point where they’re limiting your ability to carry out daily tasks, you should speak with a doctor. This can be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease or another neurodegenerative health condition.
According to the National Institute on Aging (NIH), the key signs to look out for include:
- repeating the same questions
- reducing personal hygiene
- experiencing increased confusion
- getting lost in familiar places
- having difficulty following instructions
Medication can’t restore your memory and cure memory loss, but it can help you manage your symptoms and stabilize the progression of your condition.
According to the National Institute of Aging (NIA), if you experience worsening memory loss, it’s important to follow the course of prescription medications that the doctor gives you.
No over-the-counter medications can help improve memory loss symptoms. It’s also important to remember not to trust any online supplements that claim to be able to cure your memory loss and function.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating the activity of your nerve cells, including those in your brain that contribute to your cognitive processes. Having low levels of acetylcholine may cause difficulties with memory.
Cholinesterase inhibitors are medications that prevent the action of the enzyme cholinesterase, which is responsible for breaking down acetylcholine. This allows quantities of acetylcholine to build up in your brain, improving your cognitive function and memory.
Some examples of cholinesterase inhibitors include:
- Donepezil (Aricept): Donepezil is an oral tablet medication that can help slow the progression of behavioral symptoms of dementia in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The FDA approves it at 23 milligrams (mg) per dose.
- Galantamine (Razadyne): Galantamine can help slow mild confusion, like that caused by dementia from Alzheimer’s disease.
- Rivastigmine (Exelon): Rivastigmine can help treat confusion and memory problems related to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. This drug is available as skin patches and oral tablets.
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Glutamate is the most common neurotransmitter in your nervous system, present in over 90% of your nerve cells. As your brain ages, its structure changes.
These structural changes can change how your nerve cells react to glutamate. These changes happen across your brain, including the areas responsible for memory.
For example, if you have Alzheimer’s disease, you may experience memory loss and confusion due to a buildup of glutamate between your nerve cells.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, glutamate regulator medications work by regulating the amount of glutamate in your nerve cells.
An example of glutamate regulator medication is memantine (Namenda), which can help treat severe Alzheimer’s.
Common side effects of memantine include:
- fatigue (low energy)
- swelling in your ankles and legs
- severe stomach pain
- liver problems
For severe symptoms of memory loss and confusion, glutamate regulators may combine with cholinesterase inhibitors to create a combination medication.
Beta-amyloids are protein pieces that come from the outside of your nerve cells. Beta-amyloids can gather between nerve cells in clusters, also known as plaques. This can happen as a result of the oxidative stress that increases as you age and is a key cause of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Aducanumab (Aduhelm) is an injectible, FDA-approved medication that works by breaking these plaques down using antibodies.
This then allows the body’s immune system to destroy the plaques. It may slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s, but it won’t cure it.
Still, during trials, 41% of participants experienced serious side effects such as brain swelling or bleeding. Some experts suggest that the data about Aduhelm isn’t as robust as it should be, so its effectiveness may not be reliable.
More research is necessary to determine whether Aduhelm is suitable for treating people with severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Another option for people with mild dementia is a medication given through a vein (intravenous, or IV, medication) called lecanemab (Leqembi). But more trials on this are necessary to determine its effectiveness, and it may have some serious side effects.
Most often, occasional forgetfulness is simply a natural process that is part of aging. But if you experience worsening memory loss that starts to affect your daily functioning, it’s important to speak with a doctor.
Prescription medications can help slow the progression of long-term memory loss or dementia caused by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
These include cholinesterase inhibitors and glutamate regulators. Healthcare professionals prescribe them together with therapy for a more effective treatment, along with the antibody therapy aducanumab.
Download the free Optum Perks Discount Card to save up to 80% on some prescription medications.
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