These Common Dementia Medications Have Terrifying Side Effects

Here’s something worrisome to consider: Dementia-related diseases are steadily on the rise. The Alzheimer’s Association notes there are currently over 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, and that number is projected to grow to up to 16 million by 2050. The disease kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, so it’s time to take it seriously.

Chances are you know someone who is receiving treatment for Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. While these medications are life-saving, they also come with quite a few side effects of their own. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Aricept

Son helping father suffering from alzheimers

This is a common medication for those suffering from alzheimers. | Monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re helping someone with dementia, you’re surely familiar with this common medication. Aricept, or Donepezil as it’s known generically, treats confusion and can help those with the disease improve their memory and awareness. There’s no cure for dementia, but medications like this one can certainly help brain function.

The side effects for Aricept can be incredibly severe, and they include vomiting and nausea, diarrhea, and chronic sleep problems. Arthritis, depression, and blood under the skin are less frequent, but still possible.

Next: This common dementia medication may cause pain while urinating. 

2. Exelon

Concept of dementia disease and a loss of brain function

Those with mild dementia may be prescribed this drug. | iStock.com

This medication helps dementia patients by preventing a chemical breakdown in the brain that can cause memory loss and impaired thinking. Those with mild to moderate dementia or Parkinson’s disease are the most likely candidates for Exelon. Among the least worrisome side effects are joint pain, limb swelling, and upset stomach. But more serious side effects include bloody or tarry stools and vomit, chest pain, and a burning sensation while urinating.

Next: This Rx med can cause an irregular heartbeat in some. 

3. Razadyne

Doubtful Woman Adjusting Weight Scale

Weight loss is a common effect of this medication. | Tetmc/iStock/Getty Images

Razadyne, or better known by its generic name as Galantamine, is another common one that can greatly help those with dementia perform daily tasks with greater ease. It balances neurotransmitters in the brain for better memory and awareness. That’s not all it does, however — those who take this medication often experience drowsiness, vomiting, and weight loss. And more serious side effects include an unusually slow heartbeat, seizures, black or bloody stools, or difficulty urinating.

Next: This medication works for severe dementia, but it can cause breathing troubles and numbness. 

4. Namenda

Stressed out man

Namenda can have some serious and not so serious side effects. | iStock.com

Also known as Memantine, this is another medication for those with moderate to severe dementia. It works differently than other meds, as it blocks certain natural substances in the brain that are believed to be associated with Alzheimer’s. Less serious side effects include feeling anxious or aggressive, skin rashes, and a fast heart rate. And on the more severe side, it’s possible to experience chest tightness and trouble breathing, convulsions, sudden numbness on one side of the body, and an increase in blood pressure.

Next: Seizures and a slow heartbeat are both possible on this combination med. 

5. Namzaric

Woman Stomach Ache

Stomach bleeding is a dangerous side effect of this medication. | iStock.com/champja

This medication is a combination of Aricept and Namenda, so it’s great for improving the function of nerve cells as well as preventing the breakdown of important chemicals in the brain. Because it’s pulling double duty, it’s usually prescribed to those with moderate to severe dementia.

It’s not without its faults, though. A slow heartbeat, seizures, breathing problems, or signs of stomach bleeding are all possible side effects while on Namzaric. It’s more likely to just experience nausea, headaches, or easy bruising, though.

Next: This medication may cause persistent dizziness. 

6. Cognex

brain and label to indicate Alzheimer's disease

Those with moderate alzheimer’s could be put on this medication. | iStock.com

For those with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, Cognex may be a good choice. It reduces dementia symptoms by increasing certain substances in the brain that help with cognitive ability. As far as severe side effects go, it’s possible to develop dark urine, worsening coordination, an irregular heart beat, and constant dizziness, just to name a few. On the more common side, however, the situation isn’t as dire. You’re more likely to have a loss of appetite and some digestive issues.

Next: This med helps treat behavioral symptoms, but it’s not without its risks. 

7. Celexa

care giver assisting a woman with a walker

Some victims of alzheimers need a combination of meds to handle their condition. | Carsten Koall/Getty Images)

As the Alzheimer’s Association notes, dementia and Alzheimer’s can cause a number of behavioral symptoms that can be addressed with a large variation of meds. The organization says Celexa, an antidepressant, is often prescribed to treat irritability.

While Celexa can help restore balance in the brain for improved mood, it can still cause a ton of side effects. Seizures, eye pain and swelling, tremors, and easy bruising and bleeding are possible, though not probable. It’s more likely to experience nausea, tiredness, or blurred vision.

Next: This anti-anxiety drug is also often prescribed to help ease dementia symptoms. 

8. Ativan

Two trees in the shape of a human head and brain as a symbol of the stress

Ativan can help manage depression symptoms. | iStock.com/wildpixel

Anxiety and depression are common in those with dementia, and many doctors prescribe meds like Ativan to treat these symptoms. Ativan works on the central nervous system by increasing natural chemicals in the brain that calm you down. Certain side effects are to be expected, like drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea. But more severe side effects include hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, and depression.

Next: This antipsychotic medication may increase the risk of death.

9. Abilify

Senior couple performing yoga exercise

This drug can help those who deal with aggression. | iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

While this medicine certainly won’t halt the progression of dementia, it can greatly help those with the disease who experience hallucinations or aggression. Essentially, Abilify alters brain chemicals to help with psychotic symptoms. While it’s not directly approved for those with dementia, the Alzheimer’s Association notes some doctors still may prescribe antipsychotics depending on the individual’s needs.

Here’s the trouble: WebMD reports that the FDA has said antipsychotic drugs may increase the risk of death in those with dementia. And severe side effects include distress, suicidal thoughts, and high blood sugar.

Next: This next antipsychotic can increase the risk of heart disease in some.

10. Zyprexa

Close up shot of senior couple holding hand

Zyprexa is thought to be better than it’s competition. | Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images

As American Family Physician notes, certain antipsychotics are recommended over others for elderly folks with dementia. Zyprexa, or Olanzapine, as you may know it, is one that’s often prescribed to those with dementia who experience hallucinations and agitation. While this one may be better than others, it still has its risks. Zyprexa can cause significant weight gain, a rise in blood cholesterol, and uncontrolled movements of the face, lips, or tongue. In those who also have a high risk of heart disease, some of these effects can present a huge issue.

Next: This seizure medication may help in some cases — but it can also have severe effects. 

11. Tegretol

Couple standing outside a large suburban house

This medication may work as a mood stabilizer for some. | monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

This medication also shows promise for those who show behavioral issues with their dementia, says Psychiatric Times. Tegretol is typically used for those who have seizures or nerve pain, but the publications notes it may help as a mood stabilizer for some. The side effects can be severe, however, and they include depressive symptoms, muscle trembling and jerking, or constant vomiting. It’s also possible to experience confusion, further agitation, or feelings of unreality.

Next: This medication is commonly prescribed to those who have Parkinson’s with dementia or Lewy body dementia. 

12. Sinemet

couple talking to financial planner at home

This medication may actually increase the likelihood of hallucinations. | iStock.com/Edward Bock

For those who have Parkinson’s disease with dementia, this medication can prove particularly helpful, says American Family Physician. Sinemet can help mobility by reducing rigid muscles. And those who have Lewy body dementia may also benefit from this med.

Unfortunately, Sinemet won’t help with any hallucinations brought on by dementia — and it can actually increase them. It can also cause delusions, confusion, or digestive distress.

Next: This Rx med may give some patients nightmares. 

13. Trazodone

Tensed mature woman sitting in bed

Trazodone can assist in a having a good night sleep. | Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images

Since many of those who have dementia also have sleep disturbances, meds like Trazodone can be really helpful, studies show. And this drug also can help treat depression, improve mood, and decrease anxiety — all good things for those with dementia. Serious side effects are possible, though, and they include tremors, nightmares, bloody urine, and breathing issues. Thankfully, it’s more likely to just have some digestive issues and drowsiness.

Next: This commonly-prescribed sleep medication may do more harm than good. 

14. Ambien

Man doing research on computer

Do your research on this med before you take it. | iStock.com

This sleep medication is hotly debated on whether or not it can actually help memory or worsen dementia. But the Alzheimer’s Association notes because sleep disturbances are so common with dementia patients, meds like Ambien are commonly prescribed to help with this aspect of the disease. While Ambien makes you feel calm, it’s not all good, as serious side effects include memory loss, thoughts of suicide, and aggressive behavior. Clearly, that’s exactly what dementia patients don’t want.

Next: This antipsychotic approved for dementia patients can be deadly for diabetics.  

15. Risperidone

Happy senior couple in white on tropical beach

You should experience an improved mood while on Resperidone.  | iStock.com/dmbaker

As Dementia.org reports, Risperidone is approved in Australia as an antipsychotic drug that can help dementia patients with certain behavioral symptoms. It can help those with the disease think more clearly and have an improved mood overall. But like the rest of the meds, there are possible downsides. Some people may experience an increase in blood sugar, which can be life-threatening for diabetics. Similar to Zyprexa, it can also cause significant weight gain or a rise in blood cholesterol levels, which can raise the risk of heart disease.

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