A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is devastating news for patient and loved ones alike. Alzheimer's disease currently affects over 5 million people in the United States, including approximately one in nine individuals over the age of 65.
Treatments for Alzheimer's Disease
At present, there is no cure for the disease, and once an individual has begun to show symptoms of the disorder they cannot be stopped or reversed. However, there are treatment and therapy options available that can help to slow the progression of the disease and to improve the quality of life of those afflicted. Understanding these different treatments and working with a doctor can help to prolong the quality of life for those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease beyond what was possible in the past.
How Will a Doctor Choose a Treatment?
There are many things that a doctor will take into consideration when assessing what the best option for treatment is for an individual afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. Among these things are the age of the patient, their overall physical health, the level to which the disease has already progressed, and the lifestyle of the patient and the loved ones who will be serving as their caregivers. There is no single treatment plan that is ideal for every individual, but by taking these factors into account it is possible to come up with an option to meet the needs of patients and their loved ones.
Treatment With Medication
Drug treatments are available to help slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. These medications work by slowing down the breakdown of a certain type of chemical within the brain that is linked to memory and learning. However, it is important to realize that these medications may only have an effect in about half of the patients who use them, and that the amount of time during which these medications work is limited, typically to between six and twelve months. Among the more common types of medications available for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease are:
- Aricept (donepezil)
- Razadyne (galantamine)
- Exelon (rivastigmine)
- Namenda (Memantine)
- Namzaric (memantine HCI and donepezil HCI)
Typically, these medications will be prescribed along with other medications to treat the various symptoms of the disease. These may include medications to deal with the behavioral issues that many Alzheimer's disease patients exhibit as well as antidepressants and medications to help with insomnia.
Treatment With Therapy
Therapy can have incredible benefits for an individual with Alzheimer's disease in a number of different ways. Some research supports the idea that actively engaging the mind through certain types of therapy, including music and art therapy, can help to slow the progression of the disease. However, this is not the only benefit that these types of therapy have for patients.
In many instances therapy helps to stave off feelings of depression, agitation, and aggression in individuals as the disease worsens. Art and music therapy, in particular, can be a great resource for self-expression in individuals suffering from these diseases, especially in situations where they find it difficult to express themselves in other ways.
While it is still uncertain how much they may be able to help, some research also supports the idea that certain types of cognitive behavioral therapy can be beneficial for individuals in the earlier stages of Alzheimer's disease. Some other types of therapies are available as well to help patients deal with the mood-altering effects of the disorder or to help them regain some of their earlier memories even as the disease progresses.
Managing Alzheimer's Disease
Because there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, the course of treatment for the disease differs in many ways from treatments for other types of diseases. In many cases, it is important to think of treatment of the disease as management instead, with the main goals being to help the individual to maintain their quality of life; to maximize their ability to take part in daily activities; to enhance cognition as well as mood and behavior; to keep them in a safe environment; and to promote social engagement in the individual as is deemed appropriate by their caregiver.
It is understandable that the loved ones of those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease would want to keep them in the home environment for as long as possible. However, for many individuals, there will come a point where the best course of action is to choose a residential memory care situation for them. With continuing memory care, the individual will be in the care of a trained staff that understands the specific issues facing patients with Alzheimer's disease, and who will be able to provide them with a safe environment while also meeting their other needs.
Memory care can be especially beneficial because the staff can provide better supervision for patients, and help them with tasks including grooming and hygiene; meal management; medication management; and socialization. Different levels of care are available for patients with different stages of Alzheimer's disease. Therefore, it is important for those who are considering memory care for their loved one's treatment to assess their options carefully and to choose the memory care facility that is best set up to meet the needs of their loved one - at present as well as into the future, as their condition continues to progress.
The Outlook for Alzheimer's Disease Treatment
Many clinical trials are ongoing regarding Alzheimer's disease and its treatment, and many medical professionals are optimistic about what the future might hold for the treatment of the disease. However, at present families and loved ones of those with Alzheimer's disease must realize that the best course of action after a diagnosis is to ensure that they are in a situation where they can be kept safe and cared for as their condition progresses.
Hopefully, in the future there will be a cure for this devastating disease. But at present, the best thing that individuals can do is to understand the outlook for those afflicted and to take steps sooner rather than later to accommodate the care that their loved one will require.