Memantine, commonly prescribed under the brand name Namenda® in the United States, is designed to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. To be more specific, it is intended to improve attention, language, daily functioning, and memory loss that are associated with dementia. Namenda®, a drug of the NMDA receptor antagonist type, was approved by the FDA in 2003. It was the first drug to offer treatment for moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Other Alzheimer’s drugs, such as Aricept®, a cholinesterase inhibitor, works by improving communication between brain cells. Memantine works differently, preventing the damage and destruction of brain cells that occurs due to increased levels of a chemical in the brain called glutamate.
Memantine helps to keep cells from being overstimulated or getting “burned out” from too much glutamate. As a result, individuals who take memantine may have improved memory and ability as compared to those who don’t take the medication. Memantine is more commonly prescribed to individuals in middle to late stages of dementia since it can often help individuals for whom cholinesterase inhibitors have stopped working. To be clear, the FDA has not approved Namenda® to treat the symptoms of early stage dementia. Furthermore, as the two types of drugs affect the brain in different ways, individuals may use both cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine at the same time, if a doctor recommends it.
It is important to remember that memantine and other Alzheimer’s drugs do not stop or reverse damage caused by the dementia’s progression, but they can help slow the disease. In general, individuals who take memantine experience few side effects. The most commonly experienced side effects include dizziness, confusion, headaches, and constipation. Memantine may not be suitable for individuals with kidney or liver disease or a seizure disorder.