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Scientific Breakthroughs & Caregiver Tips
How is Dementia Treated?
Progressive forms of dementia such as those associated with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lewy body dementia, and frontotemporal dementia are not curable, and no treatments have yet proven effective at slowing the progression of the disorder. Treatments are usually aimed at lessening the severity of the symptoms and improving the quality of life as the disease progresses.
Several different kinds of medication may be used to treat symptoms of dementia. The medications prescribed will depend on the cause of the symptoms, the specific symptoms being experienced, and their severity.
- Cholinesterase inhibitors. These medications help to increase the level of a chemical called acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine aids in the transmission of neurological signals in the brain and its absence can cause problems with memory and judgment. Cholinesterase inhibitors–which include donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine–are used most often to treat dementia in Alzheimer’s patients, but they are also sometimes prescribed for Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s-related dementia.
- Memantine. This medication works by limiting the level of a chemical called glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is a naturally occurring chemical that helps transmit neurological signals, but in this case, it’s thought that an excess of glutamate may cause damaging overstimulation of nerve cells. Memantine may help to improve memory and thought processes in dementia sufferers.
- Antidepressants, antipsychotics, and other medications. Other medications are sometimes used to treat symptoms of dementia such as depression, hallucinations, or sleep disruptions.
Non-drug therapies for treating dementia typically focus on making the sufferer’s environment as safe, comforting, and supportive as possible. Occupational therapy can be used to learn how to cope with the symptoms and progression of dementia, and modifications to the environment, such as increasing organization and decreasing distractions, can help the sufferer to stay safe and calm.
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