Medications for dementia

Although there is currently no cure available for dementia, certain medications can help to slow the progression of both cognitive and behavioural symptoms, and therefore, improve the quality of life of those living with dementia, and their carers.

Several drugs are available in Australia for people living with dementia. They are categorised as either cholinergic treatments (for early-mid stage Alzheimer's disease) or Memantine (for mid-late stage Alzheimer's disease). Some doctors also prescribe those living with Alzheimer's disease with high doses of vitamin E to assist cognitive changes.

Cholinergic treatments

Recommended specifically for use in the early-to-mid stages of Alzheimer's disease, cholinergic treatments are also known as cholinesterase inhibitors and include:

• Rivastigmine Hydrogen Tartrate;
• Donepezil Hydrochloride; and
• Galantamine Hydrobromide.

These treatments help to restore a chemical called acetylcholine in the brain which is responsible for many vital brain functions.

They work by blocking the action of the enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, which reduces the amount of acetylcholine in the brain. Consequently, the symptoms caused by Alzheimer's disease are temporarily stabilised or improved, which allows those affected to think more clearly, and to see improvements in their behaviour and daily functioning.

Memantine

Memantine Hydrochloride is indicated for the treatment of mid-to-late stage Alzheimer's disease and it works in a different way to cholinergic treatments.

The treatment blocks Glutamate, a chemical that presents in increased levels within those with Alzheimer's disease. Glutamate causes calcium to travel into brain cells, which results in brain damage. By blocking Glutamate, the treatment helps to stop this additional calcium from entering and damaging brain cells.

Unfortunately, this treatment does not help everyone diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Improvements are often mild and vary from person to person. However, some proven benefits of taking the medication include improved thinking, functioning and behaviour over a particular period of time.

Side-effects

It's important to remember that all medications have side-effects, which depend upon the type and dose of medication.

As Alzheimer's disease mainly affects older people, it's also important to note that the ageing process can lead to significant problems with drug use. Ageing involves significant chemical and hormonal changes that make older people far more sensitive to the effects of drugs.

Should you, or your loved one currently be considering taking a medication for dementia, it is imperative that you first consult your doctor to ensure your medication is reviewed regularly.

Future treatments

Researchers are always seeking breakthroughs in the treatment of dementia. Several treatments are currently in development and testing through clinical trials. 

Should you require support or more information about dementia, please call our Dementia Helpline on 1800 180 023.

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