Skip to main navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer For Medicare For Providers For Brokers For Employers Español For Individuals & Families: For Individuals & Families Medical Dental Other Supplemental Explore coverage through work How to Buy Health Insurance Types of Dental Insurance Open Enrollment vs. Special Enrollment See all topics Shop for Medicare plans Member Guide Find a Doctor Log in to myCigna
Home Knowledge Center Wellness Library Dementia: Medicines to Treat Behavior Changes

Dementia: Medicines to Treat Behavior Changes

Topic Overview

The decision to try medicine to treat behavior problems in Alzheimer's disease is different for each person. The decision weighs the risks and benefits of these medicines. Your doctor can help you decide. Medicines for behavior problems linked to dementia do not work very well for most people and may have serious risks.

Medicines can be used to treat behavior problems caused by Alzheimer's disease and other diseases that cause dementia. They should be used only after other nondrug approaches have failed to improve a person's symptoms. Medicine may be needed when the person is in danger of harming himself or herself or others or when the caregiver is unable to deal with the situation using other means.

Antipsychotic medicines

Antipsychotic medicines may help relieve more severe agitation or psychosis (disordered thought processes).

  • Low doses may make the person more comfortable by reducing certain symptoms, such as delusions, suspicion of others (paranoia), hallucinations, hostility, or agitation.
  • These medicines also may improve sleep.
  • The side effects may make some symptoms of Alzheimer's disease worse, such as apathy, withdrawal from family and friends, and inability to think clearly.
  • These are powerful medicines. They commonly cause dizziness, drowsiness, movement disorders that resemble Parkinson's disease, low blood pressure upon standing (orthostatic hypotension), and other side effects.

Examples of medicines sometimes used to treat hallucinations, paranoia, and severe agitation in people who have dementia include aripiprazole, haloperidol, and risperidone.

FDA advisory. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory stating that people with dementia who use antipsychotics may die sooner than those who don't use these drugs.

Antianxiety medicines

Antianxiety medicines, including minor tranquilizers, relieve anxiety and mild agitation and may help calm the person. But they can cause drowsiness if the dose is too high. When minor tranquilizers are needed, short-term or occasional use often is better than continuous use.

Lorazepam and oxazepam are minor tranquilizers sometimes used to treat the symptoms of dementia. Another antianxiety medicine called buspirone also can be tried.

  • These medicines may increase confusion and upset the person's balance. This raises the risk of falls.
  • A person may become dependent on these medicines over time, causing even worse symptoms when he or she suddenly stops taking them. To avoid this problem, these drugs usually are stopped gradually after a few weeks of use.

Anticonvulsant medicine

Anticonvulsant medicine, such as valproic acid, may be used to control agitation, violent behavior, and mood swings caused by dementia. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved this medicine for this specific problem.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning on anticonvulsants and the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, people who take anticonvulsant medicine should be watched closely for warning signs of suicide. People who take anticonvulsant medicine and who are worried about this side effect should talk to a doctor.

Other medicines

Other medicines that may be used to treat agitation include antidepressants. Trazodone and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as citalopram, fluoxetine, and sertraline are examples. But research on the effectiveness of these medicines in Alzheimer's disease and other dementias is limited.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of suicide. Talk to your doctor about these possible side effects and the warning signs of suicide.

See Drug Reference for more information about all of these medicines. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated, disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Learn how we develop our content.

© 1995-2022 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Related Links

Alzheimer's Disease Dementia

<cipublic-spinner variant="large"><span>Loading…</span></cipublic-spinner>

Page Footer

I want to...

Get an ID card File a claim View my claims and EOBs Check coverage under my plan See prescription drug list Find an in-network doctor, dentist, or facility Find a form Find 1095-B tax form information View the Cigna Glossary Contact Cigna

Audiences

Individuals and Families Medicare Employers Brokers Providers

Secure Member Sites

myCigna member portal Health Care Provider portal Cigna for Employers Client Resource Portal Cigna for Brokers

Cigna Company Information

About Cigna Company Profile Careers Newsroom Investors Suppliers Third Party Administrators International Evernorth

 Cigna. All rights reserved.

Privacy Legal Product Disclosures Cigna Company Names Customer Rights Accessibility Non-Discrimination Notice [PDF] Language Assistance [PDF] Report Fraud Sitemap

Disclaimer

Individual and family medical and dental insurance plans are insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (CHLIC), Cigna HealthCare of Arizona, Inc., Cigna HealthCare of Illinois, Inc., and Cigna HealthCare of North Carolina, Inc. Group health insurance and health benefit plans are insured or administered by CHLIC, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CGLIC), or their affiliates (see a listing of the legal entities  that insure or administer group HMO, dental HMO, and other products or services in your state). Accidental Injury, Critical Illness, and Hospital Care plans or insurance policies are distributed exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, are administered by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, and are insured by either (i) Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company (Bloomfield, CT); (ii) Life Insurance Company of North America (“LINA”) (Philadelphia, PA); or (iii) New York Life Group Insurance Company of NY (“NYLGICNY”) (New York, NY), formerly known as Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. The Cigna name, logo, and other Cigna marks are owned by Cigna Intellectual Property, Inc. LINA and NYLGICNY are not affiliates of Cigna.

All insurance policies and group benefit plans contain exclusions and limitations. For availability, costs and complete details of coverage, contact a licensed agent or Cigna sales representative. This website is not intended for residents of New Mexico.

Selecting these links will take you away from Cigna.com to another website, which may be a non-Cigna website. Cigna may not control the content or links of non-Cigna websites. Details