Written by Active Minds on Thursday the 20th of August 2020.
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.
Does everyone living with dementia get prescribed 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.
Other treatment options for living with dementia
Medication is only one part of caring for someone living with dementia, there are also a range of other treatments which do not involve medication but do contribute to living a long and full life with dementia. These treatments include:
Cognitive Stimulation Therapy
CST is a form of therapy which involves taking part in a variety of group activities to improve things such as memory and problem-solving skills.
This form of therapy will involve working with an occupational therapist to learn to use parts of the brain that are working better to help with the parts which may not be. This is particularly beneficial in the early stages of dementia.
Reminiscence therapy involves talking about things from the past using props such as images or music. It is great for improving mood and wellbeing and can help people to focus their mind on something other than living with dementia.
What type of medication is usually prescribed?
There are two types of medication that can be used to treat 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.
There are separate medications used to treat Vascular dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and is caused by reduced blood flow to the brain. Due to the underlying causes of vascular dementia, the treatments and medications used will differ. Some of the medications usually prescribed include those to treat high blood pressure, lower cholesterol and prevent blood clots.
What are the side effects of dementia medication?
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.
Can medication cure dementia?
Alzheimer is a progressive condition, 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.
Taking regular medication can be confusing at the best of times but, for someone living with dementia, ensuring that the right medication is taken at the right time can be even harder. Luckily there are plenty of clever gadgets and tools to help dementia patients keep track of what they need to take and when.
The most simple (but one of the most effective) of the bunch, labelled pillboxes can be really helpful when it comes to keeping track of medication. Boxes are normally separated into days and times so people with dementia have a clear and visual way of knowing when they need to take each pill. These handy labels can also help carers make sure that medication is being taken at the correct times.
Clear Clocks and Calendars
If you or your loved one are relying on labelled pill boxes to keep track of medication, it can be an idea to install an automated clock calendar into your home. That way, it’s easier to see what day and what time it is and therefore which medications need to be taken. Opting for an automated version is also a good idea as these will update themselves, moving forward or backwards automatically.
One of the more futuristic options available, recorded messages act as an aural prompt. They can be recorded to play a certain message at a certain time and are a great way to remind dementia patients to take their medication.
The hi-tech version of a pillbox, an automated dispenser is designed to distribute medication at an allocated time of day. Different versions include alarms that ring when it’s time to collect medication and even a separate alarm system designed to notify carers when medication has not been taken.
If you’re finding that physically keeping track of medication is becoming a problem, you may benefit from communication aids such as signage. These can be used to help people with dementia safely find their way to the right room or to clearly label where their medication can be found.
Remembering to take different medications can be a lot easier if a routine is established early on. Coinciding medication times with tooth-brushing or meal-making can help people with dementia to know when to take pills as well as acting as a reminder at key times during the day.