Medications to Treat the Symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, Psychosis, & Sleep Issues in Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Last Updated: September 01, 2018

This page is focused on lesser known medications for treating dementia symptoms. Medications, such as cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine, work to manage and slow the progression of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain. Individuals with dementia may also be prescribed medications that help deal with difficult behaviors and problems that arise as a result of the disease.


Medications to Treat the Symptoms of Dementia

The most commonly prescribed types of medications are listed below:

Anxiolytics: Medications used to treat anxiety

Dementia can be a frightening and worrying process for individuals as they lose their abilities and independence. If the anxiety is mild, it can be managed without medication. For instance, finding ways to relieve stress through exercise or meditation. However, more severe responses, such as panic attacks and emotional outbursts, may need to be treated with anxiolytics, medications that help calm and relax.

Common Drugs (Generic Name):
Ativan® (lorazepam)
Buspar® (buspirone)
Klonopin® (clonazepam)
Serax® (oxazepam)
Valium® (diazepam)
Xanax® (alprazolam)

Antidepressants: Medications used to treat depression

Many individuals with dementia also experience depression. Loss of mobility, interactions with the world, and independence can result in a loss of appetite, fatigue, and a lack of interest in daily activities. Antidepressants may help improve both mood and function for these people.

Common Drugs (Generic Name):
Aventyl® (nortriptyline)
Celexa® (citalopram)
Effexor® (venlafaxine)
Paxil® (paroxetine)
Prozac® (flouxetine)
Zoloft® (sertraline)

Antipsychotics: Medications used to treat psychosis

As dementia progresses, the grasp on the difference between fact and fiction, and real and imagined, becomes blurred. As this happens, people with dementia may have hallucinations or believe that other people are “out to get them.” Sometimes, the person may become agitated, uncooperative, or even hostile. Antipsychotics are prescribed in more serious cases to help manage these difficult behaviors when anxiolytics (anti-anxiety medications) may not be enough.

Common Drugs (Generic Name):
Abilify® (aripiprazole)
Clozaril® (clozapine)
Geodon® (ziprasidone)
Risperdal® (risperidone)
Seroquel® (quetiapine)
Zyprexa® (olanzepine)

Hypnotics: Medications used to promote sleeping

Individuals with dementia can also have difficulties getting to sleep or staying asleep. Many of the medications commonly prescribed to dementia patients can fatigue them during the day. This may make it harder for them to get to sleep or to sleep through the night. Some caregivers find it useful to limit the number of naps their loved ones take during the day. If increasing their daily activity does not help, hypnotics may help them find restful sleep.

Common Drugs (Generic Name):
Ambien® (zolpidem)
Restoril® (temazepam)
Sonata® (zaleplon)


Cautions in Regard to Medications

Medications are sometimes prescribed and may help the person with dementia to relax. However the medications may have unwanted side effects, such as drowsiness. Emotional outbursts may also be an indication of untreated pain that the person cannot describe. Caregivers who witness this should consider getting a medical evaluation for their loved one.

The purpose of many of these medications is to protect and promote the safety and wellbeing of individuals with dementia and those around them. There are often ways to address the problematic behaviors and symptoms that can reduce or remove the need for a pharmacological solution. However, these decisions are best made in cooperation with your loved one’s physician. Additionally, particular forms of dementia may not benefit as well from some of these drugs, so be sure that you and your physician are aware of the individual’s diagnosis and its particular needs.