April 19, 2014
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Alzheimer's disease: treatment

At this time, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, it can be treated.

Non-prescription interventions for Alzheimer's disease include strategies such as behaviour management (e.g., clear communication, distraction). Measures to reduce the risk of injury caused by symptoms should also be implemented, for instance recognizing the risk for wandering or unsafe driving, removing clutter and throw rugs, and installing handrails. It's important to preserve the best possible quality of life for someone with Alzheimer's by providing companionship, a secure living space, and the opportunity to use their remaining abilities.

A number of prescription medications are available to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. One group of medications, the cholinesterase inhibitors (e.g., donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine), is used for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease. These medications work by increasing the levels of acetylcholine in the brain. Researchers believe that Alzheimer's disease is related to a decrease in the number of nerve cells that make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) in the brain. Increasing the level of acetylcholine helps relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. The most common side effects associated with cholinesterase inhibitors are nausea and diarrhea.

Another group of medications called NMDA receptor antagonists (e.g., memantine) can be used for moderate-to-severe Alzheimer's disease. This type of medication works by blocking a substance called glutamate in the brain. High glutamate levels are believed to play a role in Alzheimer's disease.

None of the medications available today can cure Alzheimer's disease. They can only help treat the symptoms. However, even symptom relief can go a long way towards helping people with Alzheimer's disease.

Since many people with Alzheimer's disease also have depression, it is important to recognize and treat the symptoms of depression. Medications may also to be used to help with sleep disturbances.

Support for the caregiver of someone with Alzheimer's disease is another important part of the treatment plan. This involves providing information about Alzheimer's disease, including the available community resources such as the local Alzheimer Society. It is extremely important that caregivers also obtain relief, as time on their own is essential in order to re-energize for the caregiving ahead.

 Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team


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