14 Most Common Alzheimer’s Treatment Options

Updated December 12, 2018

Reviewer Audrey Kelly, LMFT

Alzheimer's disease is a horrible illness that robs you of your memory and cognitive function. There has been a lot of research over the last few decades about Alzheimer's disease, and more research is being done. Unfortunately, at this time there is not a cure for Alzheimer's, or any Alzheimer's treatment options that slow or prevent the disease.

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There are new clinical trials all the time where researchers are trying to find ways to slow the progress of Alzheimer's. New treatments are being tried all over the world. If you or a loved one has Alzheimer's, you should not give up on finding new Alzheimer's treatment options.

In the meantime, Alzheimer's treatment options usually consist of managing symptoms. Many medications are used to treat Alzheimer's symptoms, as well as some therapies that have found to be effective in giving patients a better quality of life.

Medications

Many different types of medications are used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's. Some medication types are frequently used as Alzheimer's treatment but are not necessarily the best option. However, many people under a doctor's careful watch do take a lot of these medications to treat their symptoms.

Increase Level Of Catecholamines

Some studies have found that medications or vitamins that increase the level of catecholamines in the brain and protect against oxidative damage may be able to slow the progress of Alzheimer's disease. One study found that use of selegiline and alpha-tocopherol could effectively slow down the progress, buying the patient an average of 100 days before a negative outcome such as death or institutionalization. (study on referenced) While this is not a significant slowing down of the process of Alzheimer's, it may be an effective Alzheimer's treatment to buy the patient and family a little bit more time.

Cholinesterase Inhibitors

One of the most common Alzheimer's treatments is the use of cholinesterase inhibitors. This is a class of medication that is believed to aid in memory and cognitive function in Alzheimer's patients. There are several medications in this class, although the most commonly prescribed is donepezil.

Many studies have been done as to the effectiveness of cholinesterase inhibitors and how they affect Alzheimer's patients. One such study found that donepezil allowed for slight improvement in cognition and functionality of the patients. (study not referenced) However, it did not seem to make a difference in the time it took for the disease to progress to the point of necessary institutionalization. It also did not seem to effect behavioral or psychological symptoms.

Some of the medications in this class are:

  • Donepezil (Aricept)
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon)
  • Galantamine (Razadyne)

All three of these medications do have potential side effects, and some medications work better for some patients than others. Your doctor can help you develop a treatment plan to see which of these medications is most likely to help you or your loved one in the treatment of mild to moderate stage Alzheimer's disease.

Memantine

In the treatment of moderate to severe stages of Alzheimer's disease, memantine has been successfully used to assist in retaining routine functions for a longer period. Memantine is a medication considered to be an N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA), the antagonist. It is believed to work by regulating glutamate, which is an important chemical in the brain.

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Use of memantine, which goes under the brand name Namenda, may allow Alzheimer's patients to maintain daily functions for a little while longer than without the medication. For example, the medication may allow the patient to be able to use the bathroom on their own for up to four additional months. Such daily functional activities can help patients stay out of institutions longer and help reduce stress on caregivers.

There is also a medication that combines memantine and donepezil, which can greatly improve cognitive function for a period of several months up to one year, depending on the speed of progression of the disease. As with any Alzheimer's treatment, results vary widely, and it is not known or understood why some patients deteriorate faster than others.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants are frequently prescribed for Alzheimer's patients as a way to manage behavioral symptoms. Depression is a big problem with Alzheimer's patients because they become depressed as they lose cognitive function or move into institutions. Antidepressants may also help in managing some other behavioral symptoms such as irritability and anxiety.

The most commonly prescribed antidepressants for Alzheimer's treatment are:

  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Trazodone (Desyrel)

Antidepressants can cause other symptoms to worsen, such as insomnia. However, for the most part, these medications can help manage some of the behavioral and emotional symptoms that come with the disease.

Sleep Aids

Sleep aids are sometimes used to assist in combatting insomnia and sundowner's episodes that Alzheimer's patients frequently suffer from. However, these medications are not frequently prescribed outside of an institutional setting and are generally not recommended for long-term or frequent use. Used on an occasional basis, however, they are sometimes helpful.

The three commonly prescribed sleep aids for Alzheimer's patients are:

  • Zolpidem (Ambien)
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)

Frequent use of sleep aids can cause Alzheimer's patients to become confused and makes falls more likely. This is why it is recommended that they are used sparingly. Also, they are usually only recommended on an occasional basis in institutions where there is constant monitoring of the patient.

Anti-Anxiety

Antianxiety medications are also recommended to be used sparingly, and not on a frequent basis. However, antianxiety medications can be helpful in treating symptoms of agitation, which can sometimes lead to aggression. Used only when agitation is at its greatest, these medications can be helpful.

The two most commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications for Alzheimer's treatment are lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin). These medications can cause drowsiness, confusion, and falls, so it is important that if you or your loved one is taking this medication as an Alzheimer's treatment that careful monitoring is in place.

Anti-Psychotics

Antipsychotics are generally shied away from in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. These medications are used to treat symptoms of paranoia, hallucinations, agitation, and aggression. However, these medications have been found to sometimes cause death in elderly patients with dementia. It is only recommended that these medications be given in an institutional setting and only if the doctors believe that symptoms are too severe to do nothing.

The commonly prescribed antipsychotics for Alzheimer's treatment are:

  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)

Typically, these medications are not prescribed until the end stages of Alzheimer's when symptoms of paranoia, confusion, and aggression are at their worst. At this point in the disease, your loved one likely is very difficult to control and mange, even with expert care. At these times it may be preferable to take the risk of using these medications to improve quality of life and care.

Alternative Treatments

Many alternative treatments have been tried with Alzheimer's disease. The problem with most alternative treatments is that they are not regulated by the FDA, and there is no significant evidence that they are effective. More research needs to be done.

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However, there are a few alternative treatments that have shown some results for some patients. It is hit or miss as to whether or not these Alzheimer's treatments will help you or your loved one. However, the following alternative treatments are fairly harmless, and it may be worth trying.

Coconut Oil

Caprylic acid is an acid that is found in coconut oil, and it is sold as a medical food called Axona. Some limited clinical trials found that caprylic acid, when used in conjunction with other FDA, approved Alzheimer's medications were able to improve memory and overall function.

There has not been sufficient research for most doctors or organizations such as the Alzheimer's Association to agree that caprylic acid is an effective Alzheimer's treatment. However, many people try this treatment as a way to improve the quality of life and treat symptoms.

Many people, rather than pay the exorbitant price for Axona, turn to use coconut oil as a supplement. While many patients and their families have reported that it did help in memory and cognitive function, there have been no clinical trials to confirm that it is an effective treatment.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo Biloba is a plant extract that has many properties. It is believed to have a positive impact on cells within the brain and body. It is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. It is frequently used as a supplement for a wide variety of ailments and symptoms.

Some people believe that ginkgo biloba is an effective alternative to Alzheimer's treatment. However, clinical trials that have been done have not corroborated this belief. One clinical trial found that ginkgo biloba had no statistical difference in the prevention or progression of Alzheimer's.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids have been found by researchers to promote heart health and reduce the risks of heart disease and stroke. Many people take a supplement for Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for these reasons.

Some studies have also linked DHA to improving cognitive function and memory in dementia patients. DHA is found in the membranes of nerve cells, and supplementing this may have a positive effect on the brain. Studies have been done on the effects of Omega 3 fatty acids as an Alzheimer's treatment with mixed results. More research is needed. However, taken in FDA approved doses, it is a harmless supplement that may be worth the try.

Therapies

There are a few therapies that have been found to be effective Alzheimer's treatments to improve quality of life and memory function. These therapies often have mixed results in helping with memory, but tend to improve the quality of life and happiness in patients greatly. These therapies are frequently used in institutions, but can also be implemented at home.

Music

Many studies have shown that music as a therapy for Alzheimer's treatment can help reduce agitation and improve behavioral issues that are frequently present in the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease. In the late stages of the disease, music can be a way to connect with others when verbal communication is not easy for the patient.

Music can also help Alzheimer's patients with their memory. Music is a powerful thing, and many people associate certain songs or types of music with certain memories. Someone who is unable to remember who their child is may have sudden memories of their childhood when they hear a particular song that they used to sing to that child.

Source: defense.gov

Art

Art projects are a great way to allow Alzheimer's patients the freedom of expression and a feeling of accomplishment. Many Alzheimer's patients become frustrated with their inability to perform simple daily tasks or remember simple things. However, with art projects they can have the freedom to express themselves. There is no right or wrong, and as such, they can feel as though they have done something worthwhile.

Art projects also allow expression, which is extremely important in the middle and late stages of Alzheimer's disease. When the patient is no longer able to communicate effectively how they are feeling, art projects can give them an outlet for those emotions and thoughts.

Story Telling

Storytelling sessions can help Alzheimer's patients connect and feel calm and happy. You can show them a picture and ask them to come up with a story about what is being shown or the people in the picture. Sometimes you can show them pictures of their history, and it will prompt them to recall certain times or events.

These memories and storytelling give the patient some sense that they are still who they always were. It may allow them to remember things about their past that they had forgotten. While the memories may not last for more than a few moments, the ability to remember those things does help to improve their mood.

Environmental Changes

One of the most effective Alzheimer's treatments is to make environmental changes when behavioral symptoms rear their ugly head. When a patient becomes agitated or aggressive, sometimes a change in environment can make all the difference. Changing the environment to make things easier to find and access can also help them improve their quality of life and help them retain a bit of their independence for a longer period.

Source: defense.gov

Getting Help

If you or a loved one are facing Alzheimer's disease, you should not feel that you are without hope. With constant research being done into new Alzheimer's treatment, there are many options available to you. These are just some of the most common treatments. Contacting doctors and therapists can help you get resources to clinical trials and other treatments that may be effective.


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