How is dementia treated?

How is dementia treated?

Due to the fact that dementia cannot be cured, dementia treatment often involves managing the symptoms of the condition. This can be done using:

Medications for dementia

The below medications can be used to temporarily improve the symptoms of dementia:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors – These include rivastigmine (Exelon), donepezil (Aricept) and galantamine (Razadyne). These medications work through boosting the judgment and memory of the patient.    
    • These medications are used to primarily treat Alzheimer’s disease, however, they are often used for other types of dementias including Parkinson’s disease dementia, vascular dementia, as well as Lewy body dementia. Common side effects may include diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.
  • Memantine (Namenda) – This type of medication works through regulating glutamate activity, glutamate is a chemical messenger in the brain involved in the functioning of the brain such as memory and learning. In some cases, this medication will be prescribed with a cholinesterase inhibitor. The common side effect of this drug is dizziness.
  • Combination drugs – doctors may also use a drug known as Namzaric, this is a combination of both the cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine. This drug helps in slowing down the progression of memory loss.
  • Other medications – The doctor may also prescribe medications that are used to treat other conditions or symptoms such as agitation, sleep apnoea or depression.

Therapies to treat dementia

A number of the symptoms of dementia as well as behavioural issues may be treated through nondrug approaches initially. These include:

  • Occupational therapy – A role of an occupational therapist may be to show a dementia sufferer's caregiver or loved ones how to make a home more accommodating for the affected person. These professionals can help both the affected person and those involved in their care to learn to cope with certain behaviours associated with dementia. This can help everyone to not only prepare for what to expect but also in cases where it does progress, prevent accidents such as falls from occurring and take steps to minimise fear and confusion within the home.
  • Altering the environment –Reducing the noise and clutter in a home can help to make the environment more accommodating to dementia sufferers. It is best to simplify things so that they function optimally should they stay in their original home. Hiding dangerous items such as knives and creating places for everyday items such as keys and medications can make it easier. Systems to monitor the affected person can also be installed so as to keep track of them in the event that they should wander or get lost.
  • Modifying tasks – Breaking tasks into smaller and easier steps helps a dementia sufferer to focus on their success and not their failure. Creating and implementing a routine and structure can also help prevent or reduce confusion associated with those suffering from dementia.

Alternative medicine options for dementia

There are a number of dietary supplements, therapies and herbal remedies that have been researched and studies for those suffering from dementia. There is still much research needed in order to supply concrete evidence, however, some of these alternate treatment methods have been seen to have beneficial properties.

It is advised that one should always use caution when taking any dietary supplements, herbal remedies or medications. It is best that you speak to your doctor first if you are thinking about taking or administering any medications to someone with dementia as these may cause serious interactions with medications or result in unanticpated side effects. There are several alternate medications that have been studied and have been said to be effective, these include:

  • Vitamin E – The evidence regarding those who have taken vitamin E to treat dementia is yet to be proven, however, it is thought to have positive results. Doctors advise against the intake of large doses of the vitamin as this can result in issues in those who suffer from a heart disease.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – Some evidence has been found to support the fact that eating fish and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids may lower one’s risk of developing dementia. However, there are also clinical studies that have been conducted to show that these supplements do not significantly reduce the cognitive decline in those who suffer from dementia.  
  • Ginkgo – This is a herbal medication that is believed to have strong antioxidant properties.

Other therapies

The below techniques have been found to possibly reduce agitation in those with dementia and even promote relaxation in patients:

  • Massage therapy
  • Music therapy – Listening to soft and soothing music
  • Pet therapy – Visiting, petting and playing with dogs has been said to improve the behaviours and moods of those with dementia.
  • Art therapy – This involves expressing oneself through art
  • Aromatherapy – This uses fragrant plant oils

Continuous research that is being done on dementia

Ongoing research into dementia with the focus on new treatments being used to slow down the progression of the cognitive dysfunction is being conducted. There is also substantial research focusing on decreasing damage to the brain and preventing dementia progression that is related to the development of abnormal proteins (tau and beta amyloid proteins). As well as this, researchers are still trying to find and identify what genes are responsible for or contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and in doing so, develop certain drugs that are made to modify these specific genes.

Identifying the treatments and causes responsible for the inflammation of the brain is another area of research being conducted. Research regarding the use of insulin and brain cells may, in turn, lead to innovative treatments for dementia.

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