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|How Is Alzheimer's Treated?
Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. Certain medications may temporarily improve cognitive (brain) symptoms in some patients, but the beneficial effects only last for 6 to 12 months. These medications are listed below.
The FDA has approved 2 types of drugs to treat memory loss, confusion and problems with thinking in Alzheimer patients. These are cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne, Cognex) and memantine (Namenda). A high dose of vitamin E may also be prescribed. Different medications are prescribed depending on the stage of Alzheimer's present. Medications delays worsening symptoms in about half of the patients who take them but only for a maximum of 6 to 12 months.
Early Stages: Memory Medications
Cholinesterase inhibitors are approved to treat early symptoms of Alzheimer's related to memory loss, language, judgment and thinking problems. This drug helps to prevent the breakdown of a certain chemical messenger in the brain which is important for memory and learning. Side effects are few, but can include nausea, loss of appetite and increased bowel movements. Approved cholinesterase inhibitors are:
Moderate To Severe Stages: Memory Medications
Memantine (Namenda) is FDA approved for treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s. This drug regulates the activity of a different brain chemical called glutamate, also involved in memory and learning. It can be used alone, or with a cholinesterase inhibitor. It can cause some side effects including headaches, constipation, dizziness, vertigo and confusion.
Alzheimer's does not only affect a person's memory, but it also affects the way they feel and act. In the early stages of the disease the patient may feel irritable, depressed or anxious. As it progresses, other symptoms such as aggression, anger, physical or verbal outbursts, hallucinations, delusions and sleep disturbances can occur. The chief cause of these changes are dying brain cells. At first non-drug therapies will be recommended. This may mean identifying the triggers behind outbursts and doing your best to avoid them. For example, if the person wishes to visit a friend who died years ago, don't point out that the friend is dead. Instead, agree, and say that would be a nice thing to do. A healthcare worker can put you in contact with social organizations that can help you with tips for coping with a loved one's behavior. Only when you have exhausted these options, should additional medication be considered.
Many people with Alzheimer's experience changes in their sleep patterns. Scientists are not sure why this happens. Changes are more common in the later stages of the disease. Patients may wake up more often and stay awake for longer periods (studies show they spend about 40 percent of their night awake). They may call out several times in the night, disrupting the sleep of their caregivers. Typically the patient becomes drowsy during the day and naps frequently. A doctor should exam the patient for signs of an underlying problem, such as depression, sleep apnea (abnormal breathing pattern while sleeping) and restless leg syndrome (unpleasant sensation of tingling or crawling in the legs that cause the urge to move them). Studies show that sleeping pills do not usually improve the sleep quality of older patients, and they increase the risk of falls. If pills are used they should be discontinued after a regular sleeping pattern is established.
Tips For Improving Sleep Quality
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