Having a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease can be frustrating, costly, debilitating and scary. Although no cure currently exists for this specific type of dementia, symptomatic treatments are available and can be helpful. Like with any other illness, the faster the disease is diagnosed and remedied, the lesser the chance the disease will progress to a worsened state.
The treatment regimen
After receiving an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, it is important to get on a treatment regimen plan that includes:
- medication for the dementia in particular
- medication for the mood changes if present
- physical, occupational and speech therapies
- a record-keeping diary or journal to document improving or worsening symptoms
- a care plan for the caretaker
Medication for Alzheimer’s symptoms
A couple of medications are approved for the use of symptom relief in Alzheimer’s disease. These include a type of medication known as cholinesterase inhibitors. Four cholinesterase inhibitors are currently available: donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), galantamine (Razadyne), and tacrine (Cognex). Treatment with these can provide modest improvement of symptoms and reduction in the rate of cognitive decline in some patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Because observation for six to 12 months is usually necessary to assess potential benefit of these medications, family, friends and caretakers should document in detail the daily progress when a person is under treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Medication for Alzheimer’s mood disorders
Treating concurrent mood disorders in Alzheimer’s patients is also important. It is possible to use antidepressants, antipsychotics or anti-anxiety medications to help curb depressed mood agitation, insomnia, aggression or psychosis. Do not be concerned if the patient is placed on more than one medication when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
A comfortable, familiar environment
Non-pharmacological treatments are also important. Making sure the patient remains in a comfortable, familiar environment can reduce forgetfulness and agitation. Taking these steps can help:
- register the loved one in an Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program
- place locks on the windows and doors
- install rails in the bathroom to help prevent falls
- use calendars, clocks, notes and newspapers for time orientation
- provide a predictable routine and simplify tasks with explicit directions
- provide a safe environment away from sharp edges and slippery floors
Physical, occupational and speech therapies
Patients can also benefit from rehabilitation programs such as occupational therapy, which assists with daily activities like dressing and eating, and physical therapy. Because speech impairments commonly occur in Alzheimer’s disease, speech therapy can be a useful resource for patients as well.
Care for the caregiver
The primary caregiver’s physical and emotional health is critical to optimal care for the Alzheimer’s patient. Caregivers suffer from increased rates of depression and physical illness, and are prescribed medications at a higher rate than persons not functioning in a caregiving role. Taking care of the caregiver is a vital part of treating someone with Alzheimer’s dementia.
For more information on how to take care of the caretaker, please read the next article in this series. With a great team of physicians, therapists, family members and caregivers, living a healthy life with Alzheimer’s disease is possible.