The U.S. population is getting older, and as it ages, Alzheimer's disease is becoming an increasingly bigger concern. Within the next 50 years, the incidence of Alzheimer's is expected to quadruple, affecting one in 45 Americans.
Today, there is still no cure for Alzheimer's. People with the disease progressively lose memory and the ability to function. Researchers are still trying to fully understand how its brain plaques and tangles lead to memory loss and other cognitive, behavioral and psychiatric symptoms -- and how to reverse those changes to prevent or stop the disease.
Sundowning, or sundown syndrome, affects some people who have Alzheimer's disease and dementia. People with dementia who "sundown" get confused and agitated as the sun goes down -- and sometimes through the night.
Sundowning may prevent people with dementia from sleeping well. It may also make them more likely to wander. Due to the stress it puts on caregivers, sundowning is a common cause of caregiver burnout.
However, there are treatments available today that can help patients manage the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, allowing them to function at a higher level for a longer period of time. Alzheimer's therapy involves a number of different treatments that address each of these problems. Because symptoms change over time, doctors need to adjust their Alzheimer's patients' therapies as new problems emerge.
Alzheimer's Disease Medications
Several different types of medications are used to treat the memory loss, behavior changes, sleep problems, and other symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. These medications won't stop the disease, but they can slow down the progression of symptoms for a few months or even years. All of these medications can have side effects, which can be even more pronounced in older people.
Four medications in two classes are FDA-approved specifically for Alzheimer's therapy:
Antipsychotic medications, such as aripiprazole (Abilify), haloperidol (Haldol), and olanzapine (Zyprexa), treat hallucinations, delusions, agitation, and aggression. It's important to note that some antipsychotic drugs have been linked to an increased risk of death in patients with dementia, and currently carry the FDA's "black box" warning about their use in older patients with dementia. They can, however, still be necessary and helpful to many patients.
Other Alzheimer's Therapies
It has been suggested that some non-drug therapies also can help Alzheimer's patients cope with the symptoms of the condition.