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Anti-dementia drugs for people with memory problems but without dementia

Russ TC, Morling JR
Published Online: 
12 September 2012

Dementia is a very common condition and, with ageing populations, will only increase in importance in the coming years. Early diagnosis and treatment help people with dementia stay independent and living at home for longer. Cholinesterase inhibitor ('anti-dementia') drugs are used to treat people with Alzheimer's disease (the most common cause of dementia) and can be started as soon as dementia is diagnosed. However, it is not clear whether they are helpful, or indeed safe, in people who have some memory problems but who do not have dementia. It is extremely difficult to predict who will go on to develop dementia from this group of people and some will even get better and their memory return to normal. There is very little evidence that these drugs prevent the development of dementia over three years and people taking them experience a number of side effects including nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as muscle spasms/leg cramps and abnormal dreams.