Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
However, certain medicines can improve memory and slow the progression of the disease in the early stages, while others can alleviate mood changes and other behavioural problems associated with the disease.
The goal of treatment in Alzheimer’s disease is to manage the symptoms as far as possible.
- Donepezil hydrochloride, rivastigmine and galanthamine work by slowing the breakdown of acetylcholine, the chemical that helps the neurons communicate with one another. It may help improve memory to some extent in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.
- Memantine blocks NMDA glutamate receptors in the brain providing neuroprotective effects from toxic levels of glutamate. It’s been shown to slow the deterioration of the illness and to improve activities of daily living.
- A number of drugs can alleviate specific symptoms. Antidepressants, as well as anti-anxiety medication, mood-stabilisers and other medications (e.g. anti-psychotics) can be prescribed.
The immediate environment of the person with Alzheimer’s disease can play an important role in helping him or her cope with the disease.
It’s important that family members who are looking after the person in the final stages of the illness take note of this and modify the surroundings to reduce stress from environmental factors.
Family members of people with Alzheimer’s disease can do the following:
- Provide balanced nutrition and plenty of fluids.
- Keep pills and poisons away.
- Keep instructions simple and short.
- Promote a feeling of safety. Keep the living environment familiar and stable by sticking to a routine.
- Keep visual clues to time and place, such as calendars, clocks and pictures of the season.
- If you have to leave the house, leave reminder notes and simple directions that your relative can easily follow and remember.
- Label objects.
- An ID bracelet with a phone number is indispensable for people with Alzheimer’s disease because they’re inclined to wander and get lost.
- As long-term memory is better than short-term memory in the early stages of the disease, the person may enjoy reminiscing about pleasant past memories. Use family photo albums, old magazines and favourite family stories to bring these memories to the fore.
Looking after a person with dementia can be an emotionally draining experience for family members. If you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, relief from ordinary day-to-day chores in the home may help you cope with the deterioration of a loved one. The role of support groups and social workers cannot be overemphasised.