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Aricept (donepezil) is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor (AChEI) used to improve cognitive function in patients with mild to severe Alzheimer's. It works by preserving the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which helps brain cells communicate with each other.

The medication can provide a number of benefits which, as a whole, may help patients retain their independence, reduce dependency on caretakers, retain their sense of self, and improve or preserve their ability to interact meaningfully with others. Most patients see some improvement in:

  • Memory
  • Attention/focus
  • Comprehension
  • Orientation
  • Coordination
  • Routine activities
  • Socializing
  • Speaking/communicating

Aricept is available in regular tablets or orally-dissolving tablets; regular tablets should be swallowed whole, orally-dissolving tablets can be dissolved on the tongue and are ideal for those with difficultly swallowing tablets. This medication is often taken along with other treatments designed to slow the progression of Alzheimer's and alleviate its symptoms, such as Namenda (also available in extended release tablets).

Taking Aricept

Treatment with Aricept is similar regardless of whether regular or orally-dissolving tablets are taken. Dosage is largely dependent on the severity of the condition, though other personal variables---such as other medications being taken, age, weight, and so forth---may also influence dosage. In otherwise healthy patients, treatment is usually as follows:

  • Start with 5 mg once per day, for 4 to 6 weeks.
  • After 4 to 6 weeks, provided no serious side effects have developed, dosage may be increased to 10 mg per day, for at least 3 months.
  • After 3 months, dosage may be increased up to 23 mg per day. This is usually only needed in severe cases.
  • Doses should always be taken in the evening, shortly before bed.
  • Doses may be taken with or without food according to personal preference. Taking with food may ease nausea.
  • Treatment may continue for as long as it provides benefit and no complications develop.

It may take several weeks of treatment for full benefits to be seen, which is why there is such a wait between dosage increases. Gradually increasing dosage also allows the body to adjust to treatment, reducing the risk and severity of serious side effects.

Patients should understand that Aricept does not halt the progress of Alzheimer's. There will come a time when the disease has progressed to such an extent that treatments no longer provide significant benefit. Medications like Aricept simply allow patients to make the most of that time.

Warnings & Side Effects

Aricept is generally safe if used as directed. As with any medication it can produce side effects; for most otherwise-healthy patients these side effects are mild and often transient as the body adjusts to treatment. Most commonly reported are:

  • Stomach upset
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Drowsiness

The above side effects are not cause for concern unless severe enough to be disruptive. Unfortunately, some individuals are at greater risk of experiencing severe side effects from Aricept; discuss risks carefully with a doctor if there is a history of:

  • Liver or kidney impairment
  • Any heart condition
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Seizures
  • Asthma, COPD, or other chronic respiratory ailments
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Lack of appetite or major weight loss

Aricept is known to interact with some other medications, including many widely-available over-the-counter treatments like NSAIDs (painkillers like ibuprofen). Patients are strongly encouraged to check with a doctor before taking other medications with Aricept.

Additional Information


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Medicines have benefits and some have risks. Always read the label and use only as directed. If symptoms persist or you have side effects see your health professional.

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