There is currently no cure for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, nor is there a treatment that will stop the progression. Several drugs on the market and non-pharmacological treatments may help with some symptoms. In areas of Canada where Alzheimer medications are now covered, individuals must meet specific clinical criteria. These medications are covered by most private insurance plans.
Consult your health-care provider
Ask your doctor or a qualified health-care professional the following questions about any treatment or product you are considering, including natural health products:
- What are the potential benefits or results of taking this product?
- Is this the best product or approach to achieve those results or are there better alternatives?
- Is there evidence that supports the safety and effectiveness of this product?
- What are the risks associated with taking this product?
Stay in touch with your health-care provider to discuss any side effects and ensure that you continue to pursue the most effective course of treatment as the disease progresses.
Drugs approved for Alzheimer’s disease
Although there is still no cure for Alzheimer's disease, those who respond to these treatments can experience improvements in their quality of life for several years. There are several medications that can help with symptoms such as memory decline, changes in language, thinking abilities and motor skills.
Mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease
Three cholinesterase inhibitors are available in Canada to treat symptoms in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease:
Cholinesterase inhibitors help by improving the ability of impaired nerve endings to transmit messages from one nerve cell to another. Depending on the medication, the user may experience different side-effects. These medications may be helpful for two to three years, possibly longer. Eventually, nerve endings degenerate and drugs are no longer effective.
Moderate to advanced Alzheimer's disease
As Alzheimer's disease progresses, the neurotransmitter glutamate leaks out of nerve cells and is reabsorbed at levels that are toxic to the cell. Memantine hydrochloride (Ebixa®) works by blocking the reabsorption of glutamate into nerve cells.
How drugs are approved in Canada
It is the responsibility of the Therapeutic Products Directorate (TPD) of the Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB), Health Canada, to ensure that all drugs used by the public are of high quality, safe and effective for specific conditions. This responsibility includes ensuring that drug companies have tested the drugs they wish to market and that the public is protected during each stage of the drug's development.
To learn more about the drug approval process, visit:
Drug approval process for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, Alzheimer Society of Canada
How are medicines developed?, Alzheimer's Disease International
Alternative therapeutic approaches
Some non-pharmacological therapies (such as music therapy, aromatherapy, pet therapy, and massage) may be beneficial to people with dementia. However, a lack of research prevents us from determining the effectiveness of many alternative treatments. The Alzheimer Society is funding projects in these areas in order to identify beneficial therapies for people with the disease. When considering the use of natural health products, think about the following to minimize your risk:
- Don't assume "natural" means "safe."
- Be wary of unsubstantiated health-related claims.
- Herbal remedies can change the way prescription drugs work. Be aware of interactions with other drugs and tell your doctor and pharmacist about any herbal remedies you may be taking.
Note: The contents of this page are provided for information purposes only, and do not represent advice, an endorsement or a recommendation, with respect to any product, service or enterprise, and/or the claims and properties thereof, by the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
Last Updated: 02/16/2018