Treatment for Alzheimer's disease involves a combination of things.
- identifying what is causing the symptoms or behaviour and reducing the causes
- therapies, interventions or activities to help support you
There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease.
Medicines for memory problems
Medicines can help improve your memory or slow the symptoms from getting worse. But not everyone responds or continues to respond over time.
Talk to your doctor about any side any effects you may feel.
Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors
These medicines are for early-to mid-stage Alzheimer's disease. They increase the levels of AChE. This is a substance in the brain that helps nerve cells communicate with each other. AChE levels drop as brain cells become damaged and die in Alzheimer's disease.
Types of AChE inhibitors include:
They can only be prescribed by:
- specialist GPs
You can keep taking AChE inhibitors as Alzheimer's progresses, if you do not have any side effects from them. There is no difference in how well each of the 3 different AChE inhibitors work. Some people respond better to certain types or have fewer side effects.
Side effects of AChE inhibitors
These can include:
- loss of appetite
The side effects usually get better after 2 weeks of taking the medicine. If not, you may need to swap to another type.
Memantine is usually prescribed for moderate to severe Alzheimer's Disease.
Side effects are usually temporary and can include:
For more information about side effects, read the information leaflet or speak to your GP.
Medicines to treat challenging behaviour
In the later stages of dementia, many people will develop what's known as behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).
The symptoms of BPSD can include:
- increased agitation
- delusions and hallucinations
These changes in behaviour can be very distressing for both the person with Alzheimer's disease and their carer.
Antipsychotic medicines or antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to treat the symptoms of BPSD.
Antipsychotic medicines can help with:
- severe agitation
Antipsychotic medicines can cause side effects.
You may need an antidepressant if Alzheimer's is causing severe anxiety. But anxiety can often be treated in other ways. For example, with music therapy.
Sometimes other medicines may be used to treat specific symptoms in BPSD. These will be prescribed "off-label". This means they are not licensed for BPSD.
It is OK for a doctor to do this. They must provide a reason for using them and tell you the risks and benefits.
Therapy for memory problems
Therapy and activities can play an important role in helping people live well with Alzheimer's.
Here are the main types.
Cognitive stimulation therapy
This involves taking part in activities that help with thinking and memory.
- talking about past and present events and topics of interest
- word games and puzzles
These are usually done in small groups for around 45 minutes at least twice a week.
This involves working with a trained professional and a relative or friend.
The aim is to achieve a personal goal, such as learning to use a mobile phone or other everyday tasks.
The focus is not on improving your memory, but helping you to do the things you need to do in your everyday life. It works by getting you to use the parts of your brain that are working to help the parts that are not.
Dementia psycho-education programmes
Psycho-education programmes are for people with dementia, family carers or both. They provide information and support to better understand and cope with illness.
These are usually done in small groups for 2 hours a week, for 4 to 8 weeks.
Psychosocial interventions are therapies and activities that can help support you.
The type of therapy or activity will depend on:
- your symptoms
- your stage of dementia
Therapies and activities include:
- music therapy
- art therapy
- validation therapy (a type of therapy focusing on your emotions)
- reality orientation
- physical exercise
- multi-sensory stimulation
Reminiscence and life story work
Reminiscence work involves talking about things and events from your past. It usually involves using props such as photos, your favourite music or things you own.
Life story work involves keepsakes from childhood to the present day, such as photos or notes. It can be either a physical book or a digital version.
There are other supports in your community that can help you live as well as you can with dementia.
- dementia social clubs
- Alzheimer Cafes
- dementia advisors
- day centres
- respite care
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE