Because there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and maintaining the quality of the person’s life. Certain medications, called cholinesterase inhibitors, can help maintain brain function and delay the progression of the disease for several months to a year. People with moderate to advanced disease have been treated with a medication called memantine, which may provide additional benefit. This medication can also be used by people who do not tolerate cholinesterase inhibitors. However, the course of the disease is such that it eventually continues to worsen.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to help people with Alzheimer’s disease that do not involve medications. These include:
• reminder notes
• personal organizing tools such as date books and beepers
• providing instructions for activities such as bathing, eating, and dressing
• family counseling and support
• behavior training for inappropriate behaviors
The behavior changes of Alzheimer’s disease can be very distressing to people and their families or caregivers. Medications may be used to control severe agitation or behaviors which may result in physical harm or are very distressing to the person. However, in many cases agitation can be controlled without medications.
Not enough is known about the causes of Alzheimer’s to provide clear advice about how to prevent it. Research into the effects of tobacco and alcohol is just getting underway, but there’s still no hard evidence one way or the other.
An increased level of fitness helps the brain to stay healthy, so aerobic exercise may be a factor in either preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s. Computerized “brain fitness” programs are becoming popular to keep the brain active and possibly protect it from deterioration. So far there is no convincing scientific evidence that this is effective in preventing Alzheimer’s, but investigations are ongoing.
Contact your local Alzheimer’s society for more information on new advances in research.