Posted on Jul 07, 2016
Every six minutes, an Australian is diagnosed with dementia. Considerable research is being conducted into vaccines, cures and treatments. At present, treatment for dementia focuses on managing symptoms and delaying later stages of the condition. A combination of drug and lifestyle changes helps sufferers retain independence for longer. These therapies work best when applied in the early stages of the condition, so do not delay a visit to your G.P. if you or your loved one exhibits symptoms of dementia.
Treatment for dementia must be specifically tailored for each individual. Some of the professionals who may contribute to this plan are your G.P., a neurologist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and a geriatrician. You should work with your loved ones and your in-home carer to decide on medical and non-medical programs which seem right for you. Some factors which may affect your plan are:
Cholinesterase inhibitors are often used to stabilise symptoms in early dementia. Nerve cells in the brain communicate by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters, including acetycholine which is important for memory. These drugs stop enzymes from breaking down acetycholine so that communication between nerve cells can improve.
If your loved one is suffering from moderate to severe dementia, Memantine is a newer drug that may be prescribed. Another chemical which enhances communication between nerve cells is glutamate which is present in excessive amounts in Alzheimer’s sufferers. Memantine prevents further brain damage by blocking glutamate.
Your G.P. may also prescribe antidepressant or behavioural-modification drugs to help with dementia management. Although a number of different drugs are currently used, Risperidone is the only one designed to deal specifically with psychosis and aggression in dementia patients.
There is a growing body of research which suggests that a good exercise regimen, particularly high-intensity aerobic exercise, can help slow down the progress of dementia. It is believed that exercise helps the brain produce new neurons and increases blood supply to important brain regions. Keeping blood pressure, weight and cholesterol under control may also assist with dementia symptoms such as anxiety. Ask your G.P. to recommend a specialist who can help design a suitable program.
A promising treatment for vascular dementia may lie with traditional Chinese medicine. Particular herbs may be able to increase blood flow to the brain and initial studies have shown improvements in learning and memory.
A number of alternative therapies may help with symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Yoga and meditation have delivered some encouraging results in Alzheimer’s patients. Acupuncture, acupressure and massage have also been used to reduce stress in dementia sufferers.
Treatment for dementia may involve some trial and error before the right combination of medical and non-medical interventions is reached. Of course, as your condition changes, adjustments will need to be made. Follow the advice from your G.P. and specialists and keep up-to-date with the latest information in order to delay the onset of severe symptoms.
Image credit: "sals and grandpa" (cropped) by jason saul. (Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic)