Tuesday, 20 October 2015 00:00

Current Alzheimer’s treatments for the three main symptoms

While researchers are working tirelessly on finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, currently the treating of three main symptoms are a person’s only option after diagnosis.  Types of treatments vary and there is no “one size fits all”.  Most doctors will help families make decisions regarding treatments depending on the stage of the illness and the severity of symptoms.

Memory loss

Treatments for memory loss are only really effective in the early to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s although there are some drugs that are prescribed for late stage indicators as well.

Cholinesterase inhibitors are the class of drug that is prescribed to treat symptoms related to cognitive thinking behaviours such as memory, language, reasoning and judgment.

Acetylcholine is what the brain uses to send messages with regards to learning and memory.  Cholinesterase inhibitors supports communication among nerve cells by keeping acetylcholine levels high.  This is not a long-term effective treatment however and only in some cases can they prevent symptoms from worsening for up to a year.

Behavioural changes

Changes in behaviour are the most challenging effect of Alzheimer’s disease.  These changes come about as a result of deteriorating brain cells, medications, emotional responses to memory loss and some environmental factors. 

Very seldom are drugs prescribed for behavioural changes caused by Alzheimer’s.  Instead carers are advised to use non-drug approaches and apply coping mechanisms.  Only in cases where there is a frequent threat of harming themselves and others will a doctor consider the use of anti-depressants or anti-psychotic medications.

Changes in sleep patterns

As in the case of behavioural problems; doctors will recommend non-drug methods of coping with disrupted sleep patterns.  If a sleeping tablet is prescribed it will only be for a short period and under strict supervision just in order to re-establish a sleeping pattern.  The risks imposed by medications that help a person sleep are great and can include exacerbated confusion, falls resulting in fractures or severe head injuries and the lack of will to take proper care of themselves. If sleep medications are used, an attempt should be made to discontinue them after a regular sleep pattern has been established.

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