Is There Medication for Dementia?
Yes, there is medication for dementia. However, dementia medications only address the symptoms of progressive dementia and not the disease itself. There currently is no medication that will stop the development of or cure progressive forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia or Lewy Body dementia.
Dementia has no cure, so instead of seeking to resolve the underlying issue, today’s dementia medication helps individuals manage their symptoms. By controlling the symptoms associated with dementia, especially behavioral symptoms, individuals with dementia can live happier, more fulfilling lives. The right medication can also make dementia care and memory care easier for family, friends and professional caregivers.
What Are the Common Types of Dementia Medication Used to Treat Dementia Symptoms?
Although there is no cure for dementia or treatment that stops the disease’s progression, dementia medication can be used to temporarily improve symptoms. Medications commonly used to reduce symptoms include acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (Reminyl, Exelon and Aricept) and memantine (Namenda).
Each of these medications has a different purpose but all are prescribed to help individuals with dementia live fuller lives. With the right blend of medication and dementia care, individuals can pursue their interests and continue connecting with friends and family for longer, happier lives.
Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors provide relief by preventing an enzyme that helps brain cells talk to each other – acetylcholine – from breaking down in the brain. When symptoms are mild to moderate, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors may be prescribed to treat those with Alzheimer’s disease. Common types of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors include:
- Reminyl (galantamine)
- Exelon (rivastigmine)
- Aricept (donepezil)
In addition to treating Alzheimer’s disease, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors can be prescribed to treat symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease dementia and Lewy Body dementia, as well as mixed dementia (both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia together).
All three of these medications appear to be equally effective, but Exelon may be a better choice when one of the main symptoms is hallucinations. Aricept is also more commonly used when Alzheimer’s disease worsens and moves into its more severe stages.
Side effects associated with the use of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors include loss of appetite and nausea, but these symptoms tend to diminish after a person has been taking the medication for two weeks.
Memantine, also referred to as Namenda, is a dementia medication that works by blocking the effects of excessive glutamate in the brain. Glutamate, the most abundant free amino acid in the brain, is essential for brain functions such as memory and learning, but excessive amounts of glutamate lead to excitotoxicity, resulting in the death of brain cells. Dying brain cells often contribute to dementia.
Like, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, memantine is used to treat symptoms associated with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy Body dementia, as well as mixed dementia (both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia together).
Temporary side effects are associated with the use of memantine, including dizziness, headaches and constipation. They too subside after a couple of weeks.
Dementia Medication and Vascular Dementia
Some medications are used to treat a variety of underlying conditions associated with dementia, especially vascular dementia. It’s important that these conditions be diagnosed and treated as part of a dementia treatment plan, especially for the treatment of vascular dementia.
These conditions include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart diseases
- High cholesterol
- Chronic kidney diseases
Dementia Medication to Manage Challenging Behaviors
The challenging behaviors that can occur with dementia are often a major component of what makes dementia care difficult. In fact, these behaviors can be more challenging and frustrating than the actual cognitive impairment.
Challenging behaviors can be encountered at any point for dementia sufferers, but in the later stages of the disease a substantial number of individuals have “behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia” (BPSD), which can be some of the most difficult symptoms to work with. It’s estimated that around 90 percent of dementia sufferers experience BPSD.
Symptoms of BPSD include:
- Increased agitation
- Restlessness, pacing and wandering
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
Both the care provider and the individual with dementia can find these behaviors to be distressing. Coping strategies can be used to help manage challenging behaviors and should be tried before using medications.
If coping strategies fail, antipsychotic medications, such as haloperidol or risperidone, can be used to help individuals who continue to exhibit extreme distress and/or persistent aggression. Both of these medications, which must be prescribed by a psychiatrist, can be used to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease, but only haloperidol can be used with vascular dementia when there is a risk that the individual with dementia will cause harm to themselves or others.
Because of the serious side effects associated with risperidone, it can only be used for short periods of time. Additionally, haloperidol is typically prescribed only when other treatment options have failed.
Dementia Care at Homestead at Hamilton
In almost every case, dementia progresses to the point where individuals need full-time support in order to live safely and find moments of joy on a daily basis. Friends and family often need to hire in-home caregivers to help manage medications, symptoms and daily support needs.
You don’t need to go through this alone. Sometimes your best dementia care solution is to locate a memory care community that can provide support and a positive, secure environment. Homestead at Hamilton’s memory care community is that type of long-term care environment. At Homestead, we focus on what residents can do, maximizing their strengths and personalizing activities so everyone in the community finds joy every day.
If you’re still exploring your options, be sure to also take advantage of the information that can be found in our Memory Care Resource Guide and our Expert Video Series. Our goal is to help you get the information you need to make the best choice for yourself, your family or your friend.