Unfortunately, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s Disease. The goals in treating Alzheimer’s Disease are to:
- Slow the progression of the disease.
- Manage behavior problems, confusion, and agitation.
- Modify the homeenvironment.
- Support family members and other caregivers.
The most promising treatments include lifestyle changes, medications, and antioxidant supplements like vitamin E and ginkgo biloba.
The following steps can help people with Alzehimer’s Disease:
- Walk regularly with a caregiver or other reliable companion. This can improve communication skills and prevent wandering.
- Use bright light therapy to reduce insomnia and wandering.
- Listen to calming music. This may reduce wandering and restlessness, boost brain chemicals, ease anxiety, enhance sleep, and improve behavior.
- Get a pet dog.
- Practice relaxation techniques.
- Receive regular massages. This is relaxing and provides social interactions.
DRUG TREATMENT (PLEASE CAPITALIZE ALL DRUGS)
Several drugs are available to try to slow the progression of AD and possibly improve the person’s mental capabilities. These include donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), galantamine (Razadyne, formerly called Reminyl), and tacrine (Cognex).
All of these drugs affect the level of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) in the brain and all have potential side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. Tacrine also causes an elevation in liver enzymes and must be taken four times a day. It is now seldom used.
Aricept is taken once a day and may stabilize or even improve the person’s mental capabilities. It is generally well tolerated. Exelon, a new drug, shows a similar effectiveness and is taken twice a day.
Other medications may be required to control aggressive, agitated, or dangerous behaviors. These are usually given in very low doses, with adjustment as needed.
It may be necessary to stop any medications that worsen confusion. These may include pain killers, cimetidine, central nervous system depressants, antihistamines, sleeping pills, and others. Medications MUST NOT be stopped or changed without discussion with and direction from your doctor.
Folate (vitamin B9) is critical to the health of the nervous system. Together with some other B vitamins, folate is also responsible for clearing homocysteine (a body chemical that contributes to chronic illnesses) from the blood. High levels of homocysteine and low levels of both folate and vitamin B12 have been found in people with AD. Although the benefits of taking these B vitamins for AD is not entirely clear, it may be worth considering them, particularly if your homocysteine levels are high.
Antioxidant supplements, like ginkgo biloba and vitamin E, scavenge free radicals. These products of metabolism are highly reactive and can damage cells throughout the body.
Vitamin E dissolves in fat, readily enters the brain, and may slow down cell damage. In at least one well-designed study of people with AD who were followed for 2 years, those who took vitamin E supplements had improved symptoms compared to those who took a placebo pill.
Ginkgo biloba is an herb widely used in Europe for treating dementia. It improves blood flow in the brain and contains flavonoids (plant substances) that act as antioxidants. Although many of the studies to date have been somewhat flawed, the idea that ginkgo may improve thinking, learning, and memory in those with AD has been promising. DO NOT use ginkgo if you take blood-thinning medications like warfarin (Coumadin) or a class of antidepressants called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
If you are considering any drugs or supplements, you MUST talk to your doctor first. Remember that herbs and supplements available over the counter are NOT regulated by the FDA.