June 22, 2010
Drugs used to treat people with Alzheimer’s fall into two broad categories–medications to treat cognitive symptoms, such as memory problems and other mental deficits of Alzheimer’s, and drugs to treat behavioral symptoms that do not respond to non-pharmacological behavioral-management approaches. These drugs might include a variety of types of medicines broadly categorized as anti-agitation drugs.
Currently, more than 100 clinical trials are being conducted in Alzheimer’s and dementia. The government requires that all new medicines undergo rigorous testing in the laboratory, first in animals and then in human volunteers before doctors can prescribe them or sold in pharmacies. Once the required clinical trials are completed, companies submit an application to the FDA, the government agency responsible for the safety of foods and drugs sold in the U.S. Together with an independent panel of medical advisors, the FDA reviews the scientific data and determines whether the drug is safe and effective for people with Alzheimer’s.
In addition, many other health conditions compound the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease because they affect one’s cognition. People with Alzheimer’s may not be able to communicate such health problems to others. Their reactions may be interpreted as part of the Alzheimer’s disease process. With proper treatment of the underlying cause, such behaviors may improve or resolve. These conditions need to be identified and treated. People with Alzheimer’s should receive ongoing medical care to determine and, if necessary, receive treatment for specific health problems. For example, the depressed may benefit from antidepressants; those with arthritis might need to take anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief, and frequent urinary tract infections might require treatment with antibiotics to address the underlying infection. Correcting these disorders often greatly improves mental function.