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Dementia - Treatment Overview

Some cases of dementia are caused by medical conditions that can be treated, and treatment can restore some or all mental function. But most of the time, dementia cannot be reversed.

Treatment when dementia can be reversed

Sometimes treating the cause of dementia helps the dementia. For example, the person might:

  • Take vitamins for a deficiency of vitamin B12.
  • Take thyroid hormones for hypothyroidism.
  • Have surgery to remove a brain tumor or to reduce pressure on the brain.
  • Stop or change medicines that are causing memory loss or confusion.
  • Take medicines to treat an infection, such as encephalitis.
  • Take medicine to treat depression.
  • Get treatment for reversible conditions caused by AIDS.

Treatment when dementia can't be reversed

If the cause of dementia cannot be treated, the doctor will work with the person and caregivers to develop a plan to make life easier and more comfortable. Care plans may include:

  • Tips to help the person be independent and manage daily life as long as possible. For more information, see Home Treatment.
  • Medicine. While medicines cannot cure dementia, they may help improve mental function, mood, or behavior.
  • Support and counseling. A diagnosis of dementia can create feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety. A person in the early stage of the illness should seek emotional support from family, friends, and perhaps a counselor experienced in working with people who have dementia.

Planning for the future

If possible, make decisions while your loved one is able to take part in the decision making. These are difficult but important conversations. Questions include:

  • What kind of care does he or she need right now?
  • Who will take care of him or her in the future?
  • What can the family expect as the disease progresses?
  • What kind of financial and legal planning needs to be done?

Education of the family and other caregivers is critical to successfully caring for someone who has dementia. If you are or will be a caregiver, start learning what you can expect and what you can do to manage problems as they arise. For more information, see Home Treatment.

Treatment as dementia gets worse

The goal of ongoing treatment for dementia is to keep the person safely at home for as long as possible and to provide support and guidance to the caregivers.

Routine follow-up visits to a health professional (every 3 to 6 months) are necessary to monitor medicines and the person's level of functioning.

Eventually, the family may have to consider whether to place the person in a care facility that has a dementia unit.

Alzheimer's or Other Dementia: Should I Move My Relative Into Long-Term Care?

Taking care of a person with dementia is stressful. If you are a caregiver, seek support from family members or friends. Take care of your own health by getting breaks from caregiving. Counseling, a support group, and adult day care or respite care can help you through stressful times and bouts of burnout.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 11, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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