Science is currently working towards better treatments for the different types of dementia, but at the present time prevention or a cure remains elusive. There are, however, medications available that are prescribed to treat the symptoms of early dementia including memory loss, confusion and disorientation. Some people are helped by taking these medications while others are not. It’s important that you talk with your doctor about the benefits and possible side effects before you make the decision to start treatment.


One class of medicines used in Alzheimer’s disease is called cholinesterase inhibitors. Acetylcholine is a chemical in the brain that helps carry messages from one brain cell (neuron) to another. It is believed that in Alzheimer's disease there is too much of an enzyme (cholinesterase) that breaks down acetylcholine, causing the cells to stop communicating with one another. Medications known as cholinesterase inhibitors work to boost levels of this neurotransmitter that is important in learning and memory. Aricept, Exelon and Razadyne are all examples of cholinesterase inhibitors. You should be aware that you may experience some side effects from using these drugs including gastro-intestinal and sleep problems.

Namenda, also known as Memantine, is another drug that is prescribed for dementia. It works to regulate levels of a protein called glutamate in the brain, and can enhance learning and memory. Doctors may also recommend Vitamin E supplements and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat the symptoms of dementia.

Clinical Trials and Studies

Let’s start by defining what clinical trials and clinical studies are all about. A
clinical trial is a specific type of project in which one group of volunteers gets an experimental treatment, while a similar group gets a placebo (an imitation of the experimental treatment). The scientists running the trial are then able to evaluate the effects of a new treatment by comparing the results in both groups of volunteers. A clinical study is any medical research project that involves volunteers.

One of the biggest concerns in joining a clinical trial for the person with dementia is not knowing if you will receive the ‘real treatment’ or only be given a placebo. It can be very frustrating to participate in a trial when there are no guarantees about which you will receive. As one of our clients stated when faced with this dilemma, “I would just find it so much easier to keep going if I knew I was getting the experimental drug. No matter how many times I ask, no one will tell me and that gets very annoying.”

Also, another issue for the early-stage person to consider is the amount of time you may be asked to commit to a clinical trial or study. It’s not unusual for a trial to be conducted over a period of several weeks or months which could become problematic.

Why then would you want to participate in this kind of research? The answer can be summed up in one word – hope. Without study participants, little or no progress will be made in finding the breakthroughs we are all waiting for in the treatment or prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. By joining a clinical trial or study each of you has the opportunity to make a very real contribution that could benefit not only yourselves but others as well.

To learn more about clinical trials, call our 24-hour Helpline (646) 744-2900.

Care Partner Tip

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for deciding whether the person with dementia should volunteer to participate in a clinical trial or study. This is an issue that you should discuss together, considering both the pros and the cons of making this commitment.