While there is not yet a cure for
Alzheimer's disease, there is much that can be done to
maintain quality of life and help the person stay active.
cholinesterase inhibitors may be started as soon as
Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed. These
medicines-which include donepezil hydrochloride (Aricept), galantamine
(Razadyne), and rivastigmine (Exelon)-may temporarily help with memory and
thinking problems caused by the disease. The effect of these medicines usually
is not dramatic, and they may not work for everyone who has the disease. Even
though cholinesterase inhibitors may slow the progression of symptoms, they do
not prevent the disease from getting worse. But most experts agree that
cholinesterase inhibitors are worth trying for most people who have Alzheimer's
Another medicine, called
memantine (Namenda), may be used alone or with
cholinesterase inhibitors to treat moderate to severe symptoms of confusion and
memory loss caused by Alzheimer's disease.
For more information on
when or whether to take medicines, see:
- Alzheimer's Disease: Should I Take Medicines?
Another important aspect of initial treatment is
detecting and treating any other medical problems the person may have. For
depression occurs in nearly half of people with
Alzheimer's disease, especially those in the early stage of the disease who are
aware of what the future holds for them. Detecting and treating problems such
as depression can minimize disability and maximize the person's remaining
Newly diagnosed individuals and their families face
important questions during initial treatment:
- What kind of care does the person need right
- Who will take care of the person in the
- What can the family expect as the disease
- What kind of planning needs to be done?
Education of the family and other caregivers is critical
to successful care for a person with Alzheimer's. If you are or will be the
caregiver, start learning what you can expect and what you can do to manage
problems as they arise.
If treatment with a
cholinesterase inhibitor medicine seems to be helping
the person with
Alzheimer's disease, it can be continued until it is
no longer helpful. The medicine may remain effective longer in some people than
in others. Treatment may be stopped at any time if the person is not able to
tolerate side effects from the medicine.
Regular assessment by a
doctor helps evaluate the person's response to medicine, detect new problems,
monitor changing symptoms, and provide continuing education to the family.
Decisions about treatment for behavior problems or other issues often need to
be revisited as the disease progresses. A general guideline is that a person
with Alzheimer's should see the doctor every 6 months, or sooner if a problem
It is important to continue watching for and treating
other conditions. Hearing and vision loss,
thyroid problems, kidney problems, and other
conditions are common in older adults and may aggravate symptoms of
Alzheimer's. Arthritis may make it harder to move around without help. A
hearing or vision problem may make the person more agitated, anxious, or
unresponsive. Treating these problems can improve quality of life and ease the
burden on the caregiver.