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Alzheimer's Center

Alzheimers Treatment

Alzheimer's disease treatment
While there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease or for most other causes of dementia at present, many of the problems associated with dementia such as restlessness and depression can be treated. Treatable conditions, such as depression, drug interaction, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol or certain vitamin deficiencies can be identified and treated accordingly.  It may also be possible, especially in the early stages of dementia, to improve memory with medication.

A person with Alzheimer's should be under a doctor's care and may additionally be referred to a neurologist, psychiatrist, family doctor, internist, or geriatrician. Doctors aim to treat the physical and behavioral problems associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Medications
Currently there are no medicines that can slow the progression of AD. However, several medications are available that can help manage symptoms. These medications can slow down the decline of memory, language and thinking abilities.  Medications can also help with some of the behavioral and personality changes associated with AD. However, they will not stop or reverse AD and appear to help individuals for only a few months to a few years. It is important to realise that these drugs are not a cure, and can only stabilise some of the symptoms of early to mid stage Alzheimer's disease for a limited period of time. 

Medications for Alzheimer's disease include:

  • Donepezil (Aricept®)
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon®)
  • Galantamine (Razadyne®)
  • Memantine (Namenda®)

Cholinesterase inhibitors - These drugs work by reducing the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain which and enables nerve cells in the brain to pass messages to each other. Research has shown that many people with Alzheimer's disease have a reduced amount of acetylcholine, and it is thought that the loss of this chemical interferes with memory function.

NMDA receptor antagonists - These medications work to modify the function of the NMDA receptor to help prevent damage or toxicity to the nerve cell. These drugs are appropriate for use in people in the later stages of the disease. Although NMDA receptor antagonists can help with the symptoms, there is no evidence that it modifies the underlying pathology of the disease.

Other drugs - Other kinds of drugs are sometimes useful for controlling some of the symptoms of dementia, such as sleeplessness and agitation. But the use of drugs such as sleeping pills or tranquillisers should be kept to a minimum as they can cause increased confusion for a person diagnosed with dementia. 

Alternative treatments
There is increasing evidence that diet and cholesterol may play a role in the development of the plaques which are characteristic of the pathology in Alzheimer's disease. A number of other treatments, including Vitamin E, oestrogen and anti-inflammatory drugs have shown some promising associations, but are not yet proven for routine use. Nootropics, such as Ginkgo Biloba, seem to improve cerebral blood flow, but consistent improved outcomes with it have not yet been clinically demonstrated.  Some supplements that you might want to learn more about include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Coral calcium
  • Estrogen
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Huperzine A
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Phosphatidylserine
  • Vitamin E

Clinical trials
Doctors are looking at many possible interventions including cardiovascular treatments, antioxidants, immunization therapy, cognitive training, and physical activity to address the underlying disease process.  Clinical trials are also underway to identify medications which can delay the onset of Alzheimer's, slow its progress, or even prevent it altogether.  Many clinical trials recruit volunteers, so it might be helpful to learn more about specific studies that may interest you or someone you know.

There is an accelerating worldwide effort under way to find better ways to treat the disease, delay its onset, or prevent it from developing. No treatment can stop the disease. However, some drugs may help keep symptoms from getting worse for a limited time.  Ongoing research offers clues to the way Alzheimer's develops and the reasons it starts. It also offers hope that some day it may be possible to delay the onset of Alzheimer's, slow its progress, or even prevent it altogether.

Caregiver support
It's possible to help people with dementia and their caregivers in a variety of practical ways. These include building on the strengths and abilities of those affected to ensure people experiencing dementia maintain a sense of well-being and individuality throughout their illness.  Memory aids may help in the day-to-day living of patients in the earlier stages of Alzheimer's. Some families find that a big calendar, a list of daily plans, notes about simple safety measures, and written directions describing how to use common household items are very useful aids. 

Also, start to become well-informed about AD. Educational programs and support groups can teach families about the various stages of AD and about flexible and practical strategies for dealing with difficult care-giving situations.  Develop coping skills and a support network of family and friends to help handle the emotional and physical stress of caring for a loved one with AD.

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