Dementia medications are mostly used for Alzheimer’s disease. The main types are:
donepezil (also known as Aricept)
galantamine (Gatalin XL, Reminyl, Galsya)
memantine (Ebixa, Nemdatine)
In some cases, these medications can also be prescribed for:
Lewy body dementia
Parkinson’s disease dementia
mixed dementia (two or more types of dementia together – usually Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia)
Donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine are most beneficial for people with early to middle stage dementia.
Memantine may be used for people with middle stage dementia who cannot take the other medications, usually due to side effects. It may also be used alongside one of the other medications for late stage dementia.
Dementia medications are not suitable for all forms of dementia. For example, if someone has frontotemporal dementia, medications for Alzheimer’s disease could make their symptoms worse.
However, some people with frontotemporal dementia are prescribed antidepressants to help with uninhibited and compulsive behaviour and overeating.
People with vascular dementia – caused by problems with blood supply to the brain – may be prescribed medicines to help with the underlying causes, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.
It is important that the person with dementia takes any medications for other health conditions (such as diabetes, high blood pressure or depression) as prescribed to help them stay as healthy as possible.
It is important for the person with dementia to take their medications as prescribed. They may need support to do this.
Some medications need to be taken at set intervals or a specific time of day, with or after food, or on an empty stomach.
If the person with dementia forgets to take their medication, you could try:
visual reminders like a wall chart or a label stuck to the cabinet where it is kept
a pill organiser with separate compartments for times of day and days of the week
alarms or alerts on the person’s phone
voice reminders, eg using a smart speaker
linking taking the medication with an element of their daily routine, eg brushing their teeth: when something becomes a habit, it is easier to remember
In some cases, pharmacies can supply tablets in a dosette box – a pre-filled pill organiser that clearly shows the times and days when each medication needs to be taken.
If a person with dementia forgets a dose of their medicine, they should take it as soon as they remember. However, if it is within four to six hours of their next dose, they should skip the missed dose completely.
Missing the occasional dose is unlikely to cause problems, but if this becomes a recurring issue, speak to the person’s GP or prescriber about why this is happening and whether it is still appropriate for them to take the medication.
Some people have difficulty swallowing tablets, especially as dementia progresses. In this case, liquid medication, dissolvable tablets or a sticky patch worn on the skin may be prescribed.
If it is proving challenging for the person to take their medicines – including if they resist taking it – seek advice from their GP.
It is important that the person with dementia does not take more medication than is prescribed.
To minimise the risk of overdose, community pharmacy teams can arrange for medication to be picked up or delivered to the person’s home weekly. This will prevent a stockpile building up.
If the person has supplies of medication that they no longer take or are out of date, they should be taken to a pharmacy to be disposed of safely.
If a person has taken too much medication you should call NHS 111 for advice, or phone 999 or go directly to A&E if there are signs of severe overdose, eg delirium (a state of intense confusion) drooling, sweating or extreme nausea.
Medicines should be stored in a safe place at all times.
If the person with dementia needs support with taking medications safely, it is advisable to keep them in a locked drawer, cupboard or safety box.
It is also important that medications are kept out of reach of any children who live in or visit the person’s home.
To speak to a specialist nurse about cancer and dementia, or any other aspect of dementia, please call our free Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm) or email email@example.com.