In most instances there are no means of curing the diseases that cause dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. However, there is an immense amount of research taking place into new drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and the other dementias. Currently, there are drugs available that may alleviate symptoms in some people in the mild to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or for most other causes of dementia. However, many of the problems associated with dementia such as restlessness and depression can be treated. It may also be possible, especially in the early stages of dementia, to improve someone’s memory with medication. It is also possible to help people with dementia and their caregivers in a variety of practical ways. These include developing ways of caring for people with dementia building on the strengths and abilities of those affected. This ensures that people with dementia maintain a sense of well-being and individuality throughout their illness.
There is an immense amount of research into new drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and the other dementias. One recent medical breakthrough has been the development of drugs specifically designed to alleviate some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in the mild to moderate stages. These are the so-called ‘acetyl cholinesterase inhibiting drugs’. People with Alzheimer’s have been shown to have a serious shortage of the chemical acetylcholine in their brains, affecting nerve cell communication and memory. The new drugs maintain existing supplies of acetylcholine by blocking the production of the enzyme acetyl cholinesterase. This enzyme usually acts to clear away acetylcholine.
These acetyl cholinesterase inhibiting drugs are
- Reminyl (also called galantamine)
- Aricept (donepezil hydrochloride)
- Exelon (rivastigmine)
Moreover, NMDA-receptor antagonist are now also used for treating people with dementia. These have shown a significant effect in preventing clinical worsening in the cognitive, functional and behavioural domains in patients. The NMDA-receptor antagonist drug available in the market Ebixa (memantine). It is the first drug for people in the later stages of the disease. Although memantine can help with the symptoms, there is no evidence that it modifies the underlying pathology of the disease. Fact sheets are available, which contain more information about these drugs. It is important to remember that these drugs are not a cure, but may stabilize some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease for a limited period of time. Side-effects may include diarrhea, nausea, insomnia, fatigue and loss of appetite.
A number of other treatments, including vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, have shown some promising associations, but are not yet proven for routine use (and high doses of vitamin E can have negative effects). Nootropics, such as Ginkgo Biloba, are available in many countries. Ginkgo seems to improve cerebral blood flow, but consistent improved outcomes with it have not yet been clinically demonstrated. Medication is sometimes prescribed to treat some of the symptoms of dementia, such as restlessness, delusions and hallucinations. These include tranquillizers, antidepressants and anxiety-relieving drugs Wherever possible it is advisable to avoid the use of drugs. By minimizing distress and agitation and by making sure the person with dementia feels safe and cared for it is often possible to avoid the use of drugs altogether.