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Living with Alzheimer's disease

Treatment

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease yet. But some medicines may help with the symptoms.

Treatment options

Medical treatment

The FDA has approved 2 types of medicine for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Cholinesterase inhibitors
    • These medicines treat symptoms like trouble with memory, thinking, language, and judgment
    • They include galantamine, donepezil, and rivastigmine
    • Acetylcholine is a chemical in the body that helps cells talk to each other. If the chemical breaks down, cells can't talk to each other. These medicines can help prevent it from breaking down
    • The medicines may delay Alzheimer's symptoms. They may also slow down symptoms that already exist
    • People do not usually have bad reactions to these medicines
    • Doctors usually give them to people with early to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia
    • There used to be a medicine called tacrine that was used to treat Alzheimer's symptoms. But it is no longer used because of safety issues
  • Memantine
    • Memantine may help memory, attention, language, and reasoning get better. It may also help a person do everyday tasks
    • The medicine works by controlling a chemical called glutamate. The brain uses glutamate to store and remember information
    • It may help the brain work better
    • It can sometimes be used with donepezil
    • Memantine may cause side effects
Alzheimer's disease can also cause sleep problems. There are some medicines that can help a person sleep. A doctor can decide if a person needs these medicines.

Talk to a doctor about medicines for Alzheimer's. They can tell you how medicines work and about side effects.

Non-medicine treatment

There are ways to treat symptoms without medicine. These can help life feel better for someone with Alzheimer’s.

The goal is to manage symptoms. Symptoms can include wandering and sleep issues. They also include changes in the way someone feels or acts. These changes can make someone mad, sad, aggressive, frustrated, or unemotional. Treating symptoms can help daily life get better.
  • Brain exercises
    • Using the brain for things like puzzles or putting things into categories can help
    • Music can help people remember. Music can help a person’s mood get better. It can also help people with Alzheimer’s who are sad, mad, aggressive, or frustrated feel better
    • Art can help people with Alzheimer’s show how they feel. It can make them feel proud of doing something
  • Physical exercise
    • Exercise can help the brain work. It can help people remember things and make good decisions
    • It may slow down Alzheimer’s
  • Treatment for sleep changes
    • Having the same bedtime and wake up time is a good habit. This is very good for someone with Alzheimer's. It can train their body so they don't have trouble sleeping at night
    • People with Alzheimer's should not nap during the day
    • Good lighting is important, especially at night. It can help with sundowning and trouble sleeping

There is no cure yet for Alzheimer’s disease. But there are some treatment options that may help with managing the symptoms.

Treatment options

Medical treatment

The FDA has approved 2 types of treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Cholinesterase inhibitors. These include galantamine (Razadyne), donepezil (Aricept),and rivastigmine (Exelon)
    • These medicines treat symptoms related to memory, thinking, language, and judgment
    • They can prevent the breakdown of an important chemical messenger, acetylcholine
    • Studies show that they can delay symptoms or slow them down, but these drugs do not stop the disease itself
    • In general, people don’t have negative reactions to these medicines
    • Cholinesterase inhibitors are usually prescribed for early to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia
    • A cholinesterase inhibitor called tacrine was used to treat Alzheimer's disease as well. It is no longer available due to safety issues
  • Memantine
    • Memantine may help improve memory, attention, language, reasoning, and the ability to perform simple tasks
    • The medicine works by regulating an important chemical called glutamate. The brain uses glutamate to process, store, and remember information
    • Studies show that it can help improve mental function and the ability to perform everyday tasks
    • Memantine may cause side effects, so it is often used only when people have already tried a cholinesterase inhibitor
Alzheimer’s disease can also lead to difficulty sleeping, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea. There are multiple medicine options to help with sleep. These medicines can be prescribed by a doctor.

For more information about treatment options, how they work, and common side effects, talk to your doctor or healthcare professional.

Non-medicine treatment

Lifestyle changes can also help to preserve mental abilities and maintain quality of life. The goal of these therapies is to manage symptoms such as depression, apathy, anger, wandering, and sleep issues. Managing symptoms can help to improve daily life.
  • Mental exercises
    • Completing puzzles, putting things into categories, or learning a new language are examples of how to keep the brain stimulated
    • Music can help people remember and can improve a person’s mood. It can help people with Alzheimer’s who are depressed, angry, aggressive, or frustrated
    • Art can help people with Alzheimer’s express how they feel. It can make them feel proud of doing something
  • Physical exercise
    • Exercise can help the brain work. It can help people remember things and make good decisions
    • It may slow the progress of the disease
  • Treatment for sleep changes
    • Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day is a good habit for someone with Alzheimer's. It can train his or her body to avoid sleeping problems at night
    • People with Alzheimer's should not nap during the day
    • Good lighting is important, especially at night. It can help with sundowning and trouble sleeping

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, however, there are treatment options available that may help with disease management.

Treatment options

Pharmacologic

The FDA has approved 2 types of medication for Alzheimer’s disease:
  • Cholinesterase inhibitors: galantamine, donepezil, and rivastigmine
    • These medications treat symptoms related to memory, cognition, language, and judgment
    • They also inhibit the degradation of an important chemical transmitter, acetylcholine
    • Studies indicate that they can delay or slow the exacerbation of symptoms
    • Generally well tolerated
    • They are typically prescribed for early to moderate Alzheimer’s disease
    • A fourth cholinesterase inhibitor called tacrine (Cognex) was once used to treat Alzheimer's disease as well, but it is no longer available due to safety issues
  • Memantine or a combination of memantine and donepezil
    • Memantine may help improve memory, attention, language, reason, and the ability to perform activities of daily living
    • It works by regulating glutamate, an important chemical transmitter that the brain uses to process, store, and retrieve information
    • Studies indicate that it can help improve mental function and the ability to perform activities of daily living
    • It may cause side effects
Alzheimer’s can also cause disruptions in sleep, such as difficulty sleeping, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnea. There are multiple pharmacological options to assist with sleep that can be prescribed by a healthcare professional.

For more information about pharmacologic options, how they work, and common side effects, talk to your healthcare professional.

Non-pharmacologic

Non-pharmacologic interventions can also help you maintain cognitive function and quality of life. The goal of these interventions is the management of symptoms, such as depression, apathy, anger, wandering, and sleep disturbances, to improve daily life.
  • Cognitive exercises
    • Completing puzzles, categorization exercises, or learning a new language are examples of staying cognitively engaged
    • Music can help recall. It can improve a person’s mood, especially those who are depressed, angry, aggressive, or frustrated
    • Art can help people with Alzheimer’s express themselves and take pride in completing something
  • Physical exercise
    • Exercise can help cognitive function, in turn leading to better recall and better decision-making skills
    • It may slow the progress of Alzheimer’s
  • Treatment for sleep changes
    • Sleeping and waking routines should be adhered to, especially for those with Alzheimer's. It can train the body to minimize sleeping problems at night
    • People with Alzheimer's should not nap during the day
    • Good lighting is important, especially at night. It can help with sundowning and trouble sleeping
NEXT: Reducing the risk

References: 1. Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures 2019 2. Treatments and research. Alzheimer's Association. https://www.alz.org/help-support/i-have-alz/treatments-research. Accessed October 4, 2019. 3. Art and music. Alzheimer's Association. https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/daily-care/art-music. Accessed October 24, 2019.