Alzheimer's Disease Fact Sheet
National Institute on Aging
How is AD Treated?
AD is a slow disease, starting with mild memory problems and ending with severe brain damage. The course the disease takes and how fast changes occur vary from person to person. On average, AD patients live from 8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed, though some people may live with AD for as many as 20 years.
No treatment can stop AD. However, for some people in the early and middle stages of the disease, the drugs tacrine (Cognex, which is still available but no longer actively marketed by the manufacturer), donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), or galantamine (Razadyne, previously known as Reminyl) may help prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time. Another drug, memantine (Namenda), has been approved to treat moderate to severe AD, although it also is limited in its effects. Also, some medicines may help control behavioral symptoms of AD such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression. Treating these symptoms often makes patients more comfortable and makes their care easier for caregivers.
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New Areas of Research
The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is the lead Federal agency for AD research. NIA-supported scientists are testing a number of drugs to see if they prevent AD, slow the disease, or help reduce symptoms. Researchers undertake clinical trials to learn whether treatments that appear promising in observational and animal studies actually are safe and effective in people. Some ideas that seem promising turn out to have little or no benefit when they are carefully studied in a clinical trial.
Neuroimaging. Scientists are finding that damage to parts of the brain involved in memory, such as the hippocampus, can sometimes be seen on brain scans before symptoms of the disease occur. An NIA public-private partnership—the AD Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI)—is a large study that will determine whether magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans, or other imaging or biological markers, can see early AD changes or measure disease progression. The project is designed to help speed clinical trials and find new ways to determine the effectiveness of treatments. For more information on ADNI, call the NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center at 1-800-438-4380, or visit www.alzheimers.nia.nih.gov.
AD Genetics. The NIA is sponsoring the AD Genetics Study to learn more about risk factor genes for late onset AD. To participate in this study, families with two or more living siblings diagnosed with AD should contact the National Cell Repository for AD toll-free at 1-800-526-2839. Information may also be requested through the study’s website: http://ncrad.iu.edu.