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What is Memantine?

By Debra Durkee
Updated May 17, 2024
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Memantine is a prescription medication used to treat those who have a moderate or severe case of Alzheimer's. The medication acts on the chemicals in the brain that cause the symptoms of the disease. The glutamatergic neurotransmitters in the brain impact the individual's ability to process information, and memantine acts to block changes to the functions that involve these receptors. It can help relieve symptoms, but it is not a cure.

About one in every 10 individuals over the age of 60 has some form or degree of Alzheimer's. The condition is more than just memory loss, it also includes difficulties managing everyday tasks and planning ahead; becoming disoriented in familiar surroundings; and difficulties in remembering recent events and familiar, common words. These symptoms and associated forms of dementia are caused by abnormal activity in the chemical makeup of the brain, which may or may not be hereditary. Memantine acts on the brain by interfering with these chemical signals to restore some level of normalcy to the brain activity.

One of the first drugs to be approved for individuals with severe, advanced cases of Alzheimer's, memantine is an anti-dementia medication. In addition to helping to make thinking, recalling and processing information easier, administration of the medication can also help individuals with Alzheimer's learn new things and maintain a higher rate of functioning. Those who have taken memantine have been found to function on a higher level as well as to keep more of their independence for a longer period of time.

Dosing levels vary based on the individual. A lower dose is typically given at first, allowing the body to adapt to the medication before it is increased. Most are given memantine in tablet form, though it is also available in a liquid. Memantine is a component in a number of brand name medications prescribed for Alzheimer's.

Some individuals may suffer from mild side effects when first taking the medication. These include joint pain; swelling in the extremities; fatigue and weakness; feelings of anxiety; or gastrointestinal effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. These usually fade once the body adjusts to the medication, and are usually mild. More serious side effects such as chest pains, loss of fine motor skills, hallucinations or loss of consciousness should be reported to a health professional immediately. Some individuals may have an allergic reaction manifesting in hives and difficulty breathing when starting the medication, which should also be reported to a medical professional.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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