Treatment for Dementia

Sadly there is no cure for dementia at the moment. However, some treatments can help. Drug treatments can be effective for some people, and a range of medications can help with some of the symptoms.

People with dementia can be prescribed a range of medications during the illness. Some are specifically for Alzheimer’s disease, and others are for symptoms that may emerge as part of dementia.

Alzheimer drugs

A range of Alzheimer’s drug treatments can help some people. They do not cure dementia but help with some of the symptoms. Some people can help to slow down the progression of dementia with these treatments for some time. These treatments are not successful for everyone, so discussing all options with your doctor is essential.

The main drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease are

  • Donepezil (Aricept)
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon)
  • Galantamine  (Cognex)
  • Memantine (Namenda)

Generally, donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine work for people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Memantine is usually prescribed to people in the middle to later stages of the disease. These are the chemical names for these drugs; the prescription may have a trading name also on the script. The trade names for the drugs are listed above in brackets. Ask the doctor if you are unsure. These drugs may also be used for people with Lewy body dementia and, in some cases, for people with vascular dementia.

Vascular dementia drugs

People with vascular dementia often need medications for underlying conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or heart problems. Controlling these conditions and adopting a healthy lifestyle by not smoking, drinking only in moderation, taking regular exercise and eating a balanced diet may help to delay the progression of this dementia.

Drugs for behavioural symptoms and depression

People with dementia may be prescribed a range of medications to help relieve behavioural symptoms and depression. These medications can include

  • sleeping tablets
  • tranquillisers
  • anti-anxiety drugs
  • antipsychotic drugs
  • anti-depressants

Not every person with dementia will need these medications; there are other methods to help manage these symptoms. Some people may need medication for a short period.

A decision to prescribe these medications should involve a full assessment of the person with dementia, their physical health and well-being. A Psychiatrist of Old Age may be introduced to carry out this assessment and help manage the symptoms. Areas such as unrecognised pain, eyesight, hearing and dental health should be explored to see if there are any other causes for the behaviour. It may be possible that the behaviour results from something in the environment triggering a response.

Talk to the doctor about daily routines, likes and dislikes so they can build a complete picture and help to identify what is triggering the behaviour. There are many ways to manage symptoms and behaviours that may emerge, and medication is one option that may or may not be suitable.

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