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  [ 42 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • July 30, 2003

Three medications, tacrine (Cognex), donepezil (Aricept) and rivastrigmine (Exelon), currently are used to improve intellectual function in some people with moderately severe Alzheimer's disease for periods up to six to nine months. These drugs (called cholinesterase inhibitors) work by increasing the brain's levels of acetylcholine, which helps to restore communication between brain cells.

In addition to cholinesterase inhibitors, other strategies currently used to help patients with Alzheimer's disease include brief psychotherapy techniques (reality orientation and memory retraining) and medications to relieve depression and calm agitated behavior. Vitamin E also may delay the decline in self-care and is best used in early stages of the illness.

Ideally, someone with Alzheimer's disease should be checked by a doctor every three to six months, and the doctor should work closely with family members to provide information about community resources, support groups and nursing home placement (when necessary). As much as possible, the patient should follow a safe regular exercise routine, maintain normal social contacts with family and friendsand continue intellectual activities. Safety concerns, especially driving safety, should be discussed with the doctor.

(Source: Harvard Medical School's Consumer Health Information, at

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