At the time of this writing there are well over 100 different medications being investigated in research trials for treating Alzheimer's disease. These medications are at different stages in the research process and:
- The majority of these drugs are what are called modifying therapies. These are hoped to be able to change or alter how the disease progresses.
- A smaller number are cognitive enhancers. These are designed to improve cognitive functions like memory or attention.
- An even smaller number are symptomatic agents. This means that they just work on specific symptoms like agitation, hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there), etc.
The process of approving drugs is often lengthy and consists of many steps. Initial steps are designed to test the safety of the drug. Then the next steps test to see if the drug works or does what it is supposed to do. The final two steps continue with evaluating its safety and effectiveness, as well as how it works when released on the market. Even though there are hundreds of drugs currently in development for Alzheimer's disease, it is a good bet that very few of them will get approval.
Other research that may assist in the development of treatment for Alzheimer's disease includes genetic research. This research is consistently uncovering new genetic associations that may lead to the development of Alzheimer's disease in some people. However, the path from understanding how a particular gene contributes to the development of the issues in Alzheimer's disease and in developing a medication to address that issue can take many years.
At the current time, there are only a few medications that are approved for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. It is important to understand that these medications do not reverse or cure the disease. People who have Alzheimer's disease may live between one to twenty years after they are diagnosed with the disorder. The average length of time people live after the diagnosis is made is about eight years. However, there can be quite a bit of variation from person-to-person. Most often people with Alzheimer's disease die from other medical conditions that are complications of the disorder including pneumonia or from other factors such as heart disease.