Alzheimer's Disease Treatment - Symptoms, Therapy and Drugs
There is no actual cure for Alzheimer’s disease so treatment is based on trying to control the symptoms and delaying the progression of the disease.
Currently, in the majority of developed countries treatment for Alzheimer’s is based on drugs to control the symptoms, medication to help relieve associated symptoms (such as depression, insomnia, pain and agitation) and palliative care (which aims to make a dying person as comfortable as possible).
In the early stages exercises to improve memory, recognition and concentration are part of a package of healthcare measures, as are therapy and practical advice to deal with the disease.
In developing countries, such as India and parts of Africa, treatment is very much family based due to the lack of access to good quality and affordable healthcare. Elderly people with Alzheimer’s are looked after until they die by relatives – if they are lucky. In some parts of India it is not uncommon to find that people with Alzheimer’s have been dumped on the streets to fend for themselves.
Alzheimer's Treatment with Drugs - Aricept and Exelon, Namenda
In wealthier nations the main drugs used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s are a group called acetycholinesterase inhibitors – Aricept (Donepezil), Exelon (Rivastigmine) and Reminyl (Galantamine). These prescription drugs have been moderately successful in some people in terms of helping the brain function for longer before symptoms such as memory loss and confusion progressively worsen.
It’s believed that the chemical acetylcholine, which transmits messages between brain cells in the area responsible for memory and acquiring new information, is reduced in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Acetycholinesterase inhibitors help prevent the breakdown of this important chemical, therefore helping to delay deterioration. In some cases it has delayed symptoms by around 12 months.
Another drug which has received approval in some countries including America and the UK (although in the UK its use is still very limited) for the treatment of Alzheimer's is Memantine, better known by it brand name Namenda or Ebixa. This is used to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s and has been quite successful in some patients in slowing down the disease. In a number of cases, this medication has allowed people to carry on with normal daily functions (such as going to the toilet alone or dressing) for longer than those who don’t take it. But again, like the other Alzheimer drugs, it appears to work for some people and not for others.
Namenda belongs to a group of drugs classed as N-methyl D-asparate (NDMA) antagonists. These are thought to work by controlling the amount of glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is a specialized messenger chemical which plays an important role in memory and learning retention. In excess amounts it can lead to brain cell death. Because Namenda is not one of the cholinesterase inhibitors and works differently, it can be prescribed with Excelon, Aricept or Reminyl for greater effect.
Like any medications, drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s do have adverse side effects – diarrhea, nausea and vomiting can be common - and patients respond differently to them. For some patients the drugs have varying degrees of effectiveness while for others they may have no effect at all or may even make the symptoms worse.
Tranquilizers, anti-depressants and painkillers are all used to treat the associated symptoms of Alzheimer’s.