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Drugs currently available for the treatment of memory loss

            Various drugs and classes of drugs are currently available for the treatment of memory loss related to several types of illnesses.  The following is a list of some of the drugs that are currently approved or under investigation for the treatment of memory loss.

             Drugs in this section are used to treat several types of memory disorders including Alzheimer's disease, dementia due to Lewy bodies, vascular dementia and other types of memory loss. The choice of drug depends on the condition and the physician's preference. Some physicians use one or more medications in combination. 

Tacrine, or Cognex, was the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of Alzheimer's. It slows progression of Alzheimer's by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It needs to be taken four times a day and blood tests for liver function need to be monitored. Up to six out of ten people are unable to reach the maximum dosage due to side effects.

Donepezil, or Aricept, was the second drug approved by the FDA to treat Alzheimer's. It works by raising the level of the chemical acetylcholine in the brain, slowing progression of some types of dementias. The dosing is once a day. Side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort.

Rivastigmine, or Exelon, was approved by the FDA to treat Alzheimer's. It also, like Cognex and Aricept, increases levels of acetylcholine in the brain. It is given twice a day and side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort.

Galantamine, or Razadyne, is last in the class of drugs that raise brain levels of acetylcholine. It has been approved by the FDA for treating Alzheimer's disease. It is given twice a day. Side effects include gastrointestinal discomfort.

Memantine, or Akatinol, is an NMDA receptor agent, which prevents the harm to brain cells from excessive activity of the chemical glutamate. It was approved by the FDA for treating moderate to severe Alzheimer's dementia. Although approved for twice a day use, it may be given once a day.

Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIg) is derived from the pooled blood of thousands of donors. It is used for treating various autoimmune conditions and may have utility in treating Alzheimer's disease. For more information, please see the section on IVIg and Alzheimer's disease.

Neotropin, as the name suggests, is drug that possibly promotes the growth of nerve cell processes and maintains nerve cell viability. It is currently in clinical trials

Nootropics, the first class of agents used for treatment of memory loss have not been shown to be consistently effective and are not used routinely in the US.

Alpha-tocopherol, or vitamin E, in doses of 2000 international units has been shown to slow progression of Alzheimer's disease. The drug works as a free radical scavenger and promotes nerve cell viability.

Selegeline, or Eldepryl, is an agent that both raises the levels of certain neurochemicals and promotes nerve cell viability, has been used in the US for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. It has been shown to be effective for the treatment of Alzheimer's.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, or NSAIDS, include drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, etc) may have some utility in preventing Alzheimer's disease. However, NSAIDs were not effective in treating Alzheimer's.

Gingko biloba, a free radical scavenger and possible brain activator, is said to be the third most commonly prescribed drug for the treatment of dementia in Germany. Preparations of the drug in the US vary and the right dose of the right preparations may slow progression of some types of memory loss.

Estrogen may increase or reduce risk for Alzheimer's disease in women, although data on this topic is exceptionally confusing and controversial. Please see the section on menopause and memory for more on this topic.

B-secretase inhibitors are the newest and most exciting class of drugs being developed for treating memory loss.  These drugs stop formation of amyloid plaque and may halt progression of illnesses like Alzheimer's. 

Vaccines that dissolve plaques in the brain are also in development. A clinical trial using a vaccine developed by Elan was recently stopped because of possible side effects in some patients.  

Certain classes of the B vitamins are felt to be neuroprotective and are being used in clinical trials for treating memory loss.

Calcium channel blockers, a class of drugs used to treat illnesses like hypertension and migraine, have been used to treat memory loss.

Statins, a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol levels, may reduce amyloid plaque formation and thus may be helpful in some types of memory loss.

Clioquinol, an antibiotic withdrawn from the US market in the 1970s because of adverse effects may reduce plaque formation by binding to zinc and copper. A recent Swedish study found some benefit in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Please note that all material contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice or instruction. Consult your health care professional for advice relating to a medical problem or condition. Please also read the disclaimer section.


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