Alzheimer's disease treatment

Overview

Presently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease and no way of slowing down the progression of this disease. There is also no treatment available to reverse the deterioration of individuals living with Alzheimer's disease. Specific treatment for Alzheimer's disease will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • The progression of your Alzheimer’s
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • You and your family’s opinion and preference for treatment options

New research findings give a reason for hope, and several drugs are being studied in clinical trials to determine if they can slow the progress of the disease or improve memory for a period of time. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two types of medications that may help lessen symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion:

  • Cholinesterine inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne)
  • Memantine (Namenda)

There are also medications available to help manage some of the most troubling symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, including the following:

  • Sleeplessness
  • Depression
  • Behavioral disturbances

In managing the disease, paying attention to physical exercise and social activities is important, as are proper nutrition, health maintenance and maintaining a calm and well-structured living environment.

The rehabilitation program for people with Alzheimer's differs depending on the symptoms, expression, and progression of the disease. These variables determine the amount and type of assistance needed for the affected individual and family.

With Alzheimer's rehabilitation, it is important for caregivers to remember the following:

  • To manage the disease, plan a balanced program of physical exercise, social activity, proper nutrition and health maintenance activities.
  • Plan daily activities that help to provide structure, meaning, and accomplishment for the individual.
  • As functions are lost, adapt activities and routines to allow the individual to participate as much as possible.
  • Keep activities familiar and satisfying.
  • Allow the individual to complete as many things by himself or herself as possible. The caregiver may need to initiate an activity, but allow the individual to complete it as much as he or she can.
  • Provide "cues" for desired behavior (for example, label drawers, cabinets, and closets, according to their contents).
  • Keep the individual out of harm's way by removing all safety risks (for example, car keys and matches).
  • As a caregiver (full-time or part-time), understand your own physical and emotional limitations.

Risks

There are a variety of side effects to medications prescribed to treat Alzheimer’s disease. These include:

  • Cholinesterine inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne) – Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and increased frequency of bowel movements
  • Memantine (Namenda) – Headache, constipation, confusion and dizziness

Post-treatment

Current medications for treating Alzheimer’s disease can’t stop the progressive damage it causes to brain cells, but they may help lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited period of time. Cholinesterase inhibitors may delay worsening of symptoms for 6 to 12 months. Memantine can also temporarily delay the worsening of symptoms.