Medications

Medication to alleviate the symptoms of dementia

Nowadays, medication is available for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. These medicines used to be referred to as disease-slowing medication. However, this is now considered a misleading term as they cannot affect the progression of the disease. They can, on the other hand, be shown to alleviate the various symptoms of dementia. 

Medication for Alzheimer’s disease

The medicines currently used for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s dementia are sometimes referred to as disease-slowing medication. This is misleading, as they cannot affect the course of the disease. On the other hand, in many cases medication can alleviate the symptoms arising as a result of dementia. Remember, therefore, to look for methods of alleviating the various symptoms that Alzheimer’s can cause.

Medication for vascular dementia

There is no specific medication for vascular dementia. On the other hand, medication is used to prevent further damage to blood vessels. People with stroke-related dementia are often given low doses of aspirin which contains acetylsalicylic acid, a substance that aims to prevent the development of blood clots and, therefore, further cerebral infarcts. Preventive measures may also involve reducing the patient’s blood pressure, as high blood pressure increases the risk of further damage to vessels.

Medication for fronto-temporal dementia

Unfortunately, no medication is currently available for fronto-temporal dementia. Try instead to find ways of alleviating the various symptoms that may be caused by fronto-temporal dementia.

Medication for Parkinson-like dementia

As far as other medication used in the care of patients with dementia is concerned, these are either medications that target other illnesses that may occur – such as depression, for example – or medications for specific symptoms for which approved medicines are available.

For example, this may be anti-psychotic medication for delusions or hallucinations. Or it may be calming medication for anxiety, or sleep-regulating medication for sleeping problems.

Inhibiting the breakdown of neurotransmitters

Three of these medicines used to alleviate symptoms belong to the group known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter in the brain. In Alzheimer’s disease, there is a deficiency of acetylcholine due to atrophy of the nerve cells that contain this neurotransmitter. The medicine inhibits the breakdown of acetylcholine so that more is available for uptake by the receiving nerve cell. This works provided that enough nerve cells remain with acetylcholine as the nerve transmitter.

Three drugs are used in mild to moderate dementia (chemical names in brackets):

  • Aricept® (donepezil)
  • Exelon® (rivastigmine)
  • Reminyl® (galantamine)

Another medicine used to alleviate symptoms is called – Ebixa® (memantine) – and it is used in moderate to severe dementia. This is what is known as an NMDA receptor antagonist. It affects nerve cells containing the neurotransmitter glutamate.

Side effects do occur

The medicines used to alleviate the symptoms of dementia do not always have the desired effect. There are also side effects to weigh against when considering treatment. In certain people, they may be entirely unsuitable and increase the risk of illness. As with all other treatments using medication, individual assessment and monitoring must be carried out by a medical professional. The person’s weight should be monitored regularly as loss of appetite is a common side effect. 

Medication for psychiatric symptoms

As far as other medication used in the care of people with dementia is concerned, these are either medications that target other illnesses that may occur – such as depression, for example – or medications for specific symptoms for which approved medicines are available. For example, this may be anti-psychotic medication for delusions or hallucinations. Or it may be calming medication for anxiety, or sleep-regulating medication for sleeping problems.

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