Medications to Treat Behavioral Problems Related to Alzheimer’s Disease

Medications to treat behavior problems related to AD

Behavior problems that can occur in AD include restlessness, anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, and aggression. Other medical conditions or changes from AD may cause behavior problems. Experts agree that medicines to treat these behavior problems should be used only after other strategies that don't use medicine have been tried. 

If other strategies don't work and the person with AD continues to be upset, restless, depressed, or aggressive, he or she may need medicine. Talk with the person's doctor to figure out the cause of behavior changes and come up with an effective treatment plan to help with these problems.

Remember the following tips about medications:

  • Use the lowest dose possible.
  • Watch for side effects. Be prepared to stop the medicine if they occur.
  • Allow the medicine a few weeks to work.

Below is a list of medicines used to help with depression, aggression, restlessness, and anxiety.

Antidepressants

Drugs used to treat depression and worry (also called anxiety). There are many other medicines to treat depression and anxiety. Talk about these medicines with the doctor.

Examples of these medicines include:

  • Celexa® (Sa-LEKS-a), brand name; citalopram (SYE-tal-oh-pram), generic name
  • Remeron® (REM-er-on), brand name; mirtazapine (MUR-taz-a-peen), generic name
  • Zoloft® (ZO-loft), brand name; sertraline (SUR-truh-leen), generic name
  • Wellbutrin® (wel-BYU-trin), brand name; bupropion (byoo-PROE-pee-on), generic name
  • Cymbalta® (sim-BOL-te), brand name; duloxetine (doo-LOX-e-teen), generic name
  • Tofranil® (toe-FRA-nil), brand name; imipramine (im-IP-ra-meen), generic name

Medications to be used with caution

There are some medicines, such as sleep aids, anti-anxiety drugs, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics, that the person with AD should take only:

  • After the doctor has explained all the risks and side effects of the medicine
  • After other, safer non-medication options have not helped treat the problem

You will need to watch closely for side effects from these medications.

Sleep aids

Used to help people get to sleep and stay asleep. People with AD should NOT use these drugs on a regular basis because they make the person more confused and more likely to fall.

Examples of these medicines include:

  • Ambien® (AM-bee-un), brand name; zolpidem (zole-PI-dem), generic name
  • Lunesta® (lu-NES-ta), brand name; eszopiclone (ess-ZOP-eh-klone), generic name
  • Sonata® (SO-nah-ta), brand name; zaleplon (ZAL-ee-plon), generic name

Anti-anxiety drugs

Used to treat agitation. These drugs can cause sleepiness, dizziness, falls, and confusion. For this reason, doctors recommend using them only for short periods of time.

Examples of these medicines include:

  • Ativan® (AT-eh-van), brand name; lorazepam (lor-AZ-eh-pam), generic name
  • Klonopin® (KLON-uh-pin), brand name; clonazepam (kol-NAY-zeh-pam), generic name

Anticonvulsants

Drugs sometimes used to treat severe aggression. Side effects may cause sleepiness, dizziness, mood swings, and confusion.

Examples of these medicines include:

  • Depakote® (DEP-uh-cote), brand name; sodium valproate (so-DEE-um VAL-pro-ate), generic name
  • Tegretol® (TEG-ruh-tall), brand name; carbamazepine (KAR-ba-maz-ee-peen), generic name
  • Trileptal® (tri-LEP-tall), brand name; oxcarbazepine (oks-kar-BAZ-eh-peen), generic name

Antipsychotics

Drugs used to treat paranoia, hallucinations, agitation, and aggression. Side effects of using these drugs can be serious, including increased risk of death in some older people with dementia. They should ONLY be given to people with AD when the doctor agrees that the symptoms are severe.

Examples of these medicines include:

  • Risperdal® (RISS-per-doll), brand name; risperidone (riss-PAIR-eh-dohn), generic name
  • Seroquel® (SAIR-o-kwell), brand name; quetiapine (KWE-tye-uh-peen), generic name
  • Zyprexa® (zye-PREKS-uh), brand name; olanzapine (o-LAN-zuh-peen), generic name

Reference: National Institute on Aging

Last updated May 4, 2017

This information is for general educational uses only. It may not apply to you and your personal medical needs. This information should not be used in place of a visit, call, consultation with or the advice of your physician or health care professional.

Communicate promptly with your physician or other health care professional with any health-related questions or concerns.

Be sure to follow specific instructions given to you by your physician or health care professional.

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