Medications Can Treat Symptoms
There is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, but there are medicines that can treat symptoms of the disease. Most Alzheimer’s medicines work best for people in the mild or moderate stages of the disease. For example, they can keep memory loss from getting worse for a time. Other medicines may help behavioral symptoms, such as trouble sleeping or feeling worried or depressed. All of these medicines may have side effects and may not work for everyone.
A person with Alzheimer's should be under a doctor's care. He or she may see a primary care doctor or a specialist, such as a neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist, or geriatrician. The doctor can treat the person's physical and behavioral problems, answer questions, and refer the patient and caregiver to other sources of help.
Medications for Alzheimer’s
Currently, no treatment can stop Alzheimer's disease. However, four medications are used to treat its symptoms. These medicines may help maintain thinking, memory, and speaking skills for a limited time. They work by regulating certain chemicals in the brain. Most of these medicines work best for people in the early or middle stages of the disease.
For people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, donepezil (Aricept®), rivastigmine (Exelon®), or galantamine (Razadyne®) may help. Donepezil is also approved to treat symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Another drug, memantine (Namenda®), is used to treat symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s, although it also has limited effects.
All of these medicines have possible side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. You should report any unusual symptoms to a doctor right away. It is important to follow a doctor's instructions when taking any medication.
Scientists are testing many new drugs and other treatments to see if they can help slow, delay, or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Managing Behavioral Symptoms
Certain medicines and other approaches can help control the behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. These symptoms include sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, anger, and depression. Treating these symptoms often makes people with Alzheimer’s disease more comfortable and makes their care easier for caregivers.
Memory aids may help some people who have mild Alzheimer’s disease with day-to-day living. A calendar, list of daily plans, notes about simple safety measures, and written directions describing how to use common household items can be useful.
Help for Caregivers
Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can have high physical, emotional, and financial costs. The demands of day-to-day care, changing family roles, and difficult decisions about placement in a care facility can be difficult.
Sometimes, taking care of the person with Alzheimer’s makes caregivers feel good because they are providing love and comfort. At other times, it can be overwhelming. Changes in the person can be hard to understand and cope with.
Here are some ways for caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s to get help.
- Ask family and friends to help out in specific ways, like making a meal or visiting the person while they take a break.
- Join a caregivers’ support group.
- Use home health care, adult day care, and respite services.
For more information about caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, see Alzheimer's Caregiving.