Written by Active Minds on Tuesday the 15th of September 2015.
An Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis is a lot to cope with, let alone when the diagnosis comes with a complicated regime of medication to take too. If you’ve been diagnosed with dementia, or you’re caring for someone who has, it’s important to know exactly what you’re dealing with when it comes to different types of medication, their benefits, and their side effects. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to managing medication.
Not necessarily. Different medications are prescribed for different stages of cognitive impairment so it may be that medication won’t prove effective for those diagnosed with an early stage. After your diagnosis, you’ll be referred to a dementia care specialist who will help you work out the best care plan for your specific case, whether that includes medication or not.
There are two types of medication that can be used to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s and each one is suited to different stages of the condition.
The first type are Cholinesterase Inhibitors. Alzheimer’s has been found to decrease levels of a chemical in the brain known as acetylcholine, which can affect anything from memory to judgement. Cholinesterase inhibitors work towards preventing the breakdown of this chemical and come in three different variations: Donepezil, Rivastigmine, and Galantamine (these might also be known as Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne respectively). While all three have been found to work equally well on mild to moderate cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s, each one can affect different people in different ways so you’ll be prescribed the best one for your needs. 40-70% of people have been observed to benefit from taking cholinesterase inhibitors and they can help to reduce anxiety, improve concentration, boost memory, and help to make everyday living easier.
The second type of medication is Memantine and this is usually prescribed for moderate to severe stages of Alzheimer’s. Memantine works by decreasing the release of glutamate in the brain, a chemical triggered by the damage done to brain cells by Alzheimer’s and whose release can damage brain cells even further. Regulating the activity of glutamate using Memantine can thus help to improve capacity for learning and memory.
Side effects for cholinesterase inhibitors can range from nausea to insomnia whereas the side effects for memantine tend to be less severe. You’ll have regular contact with your dementia care specialist, so they’ll help you keep an eye on these side effects and change your medication if necessary.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are progressive conditions so medication works to delay symptoms rather than cure them. It’s also important to recognise that medication is just one part of a complete care package that should also include support from carers and loved ones, activities, puzzles, and other stimulants, as these are all equally valuable for those living with the condition.