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The Stanford Health Care Center for Memory Disorders is encouraged that there is a new treatment option for certain patients with Alzheimer’s disease. On January 6, 2023, the FDA granted accelerated approval for lecanemab (LeqembiTM).
Many people believe that Alzheimer’s disease (AD) can't be treated. The truth is that medications are available that may help treat symptoms. Although these drugs don’t work for everyone, they offer some hope for the more than 6 million people who have AD.
Treatment for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease
There are three FDA-approved drugs available to treat symptoms due to mild to moderate AD. While the drugs may delay decline in memory and reduce confusion, they are not curative and are unable to stop the disease from worsening over time. In fact, patients and families often notice no change in memory after taking these medicines.
Three drugs used to treat AD are all in one family, called cholinesterase inhibitors, which boost brain levels of acetylcholine:
Certain side effects may prevent people from using medication for AD. Donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine can cause nausea and vomiting.
The FDA has given accelerated approval for two drugs that may slow the progression of AD and are only indicated for people with mild disease:
These drugs target removal of brain amyloid, one of the proteins that build up in brain in people with AD. Before starting these drugs, your doctor will need to confirm the presence of amyloid in your brain. Your doctor will order either an amyloid PET scan or spinal tap.
The effects of lecanemab and aducanumab in people with early AD are still being studied.
Treatment for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease
Memantine (Namenda®) is the only drug approved by the FDA to treat symptoms due to moderate to severe stages of AD. Memantine works by reducing the amount of the chemical glutamate in the brain. It can be taken alone or with a cholinesterase inhibitor. Side effects of memantine may include dizziness and headache.
Open trials refer to studies currently recruiting participants or that may recruit participants in the near future. Closed trials are not currently enrolling, but similar studies may open in the future.
Closed trials are not currently enrolling, but may open in the future.