Alzheimer’s Disease: Do What You Can Do

If you or a loved one has dementia — including its most common form, Alzheimer’s disease — you may feel helpless and out of control. After all, there are no cures for these diseases that disrupt everyday living and interfere with thinking and memory.

There are steps you can take, however, to live comfortably and possibly even slow the progression of memory loss and other thinking and language problems.

Start with a thorough evaluation to get an accurate diagnosis. Sometimes, problems stem from causes that can be resolved, such as adjusting medications that are causing side effects.

Treating Symptoms 

To help lessen the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Ask your doctor for medications available to help with a number of symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, including memory loss, confusion and depression. 
  • Exercise and stay active to keep both mind and body healthy. Focus on simple, repetitive activities, such as walking.
  • Visit a health care provider regularly to monitor your symptoms and oversee your health. 
  • Maintain social interactions, which keep your brain active and improve mood.

Learn more about keeping your brain healthy.

But the hope is that some of the new medications can at least stop the disease's progression.

More on Medications

Once somebody develops dementia and it’s for a significant amount of time, they never get back to where they were. But the hope is that some of the new medications can at least stop the disease's progression.  

Medications called cholinesterase inhibitors can slow down symptoms related to memory, language, judgment and other thinking processes. They prevent the breakdown of a chemical in the brain called acetylcholine that supports communication among brain cells and promotes learning and memory. Brand names include Aricept for all stages of Alzheimer’s, and Exelon and Razadyne for mild to moderate stages. 

For moderate to severe stages, another product, Namenda, regulates glutamate, a chemical involved in information processing, storage and retrieval. Another drug, Namzaric, combines the ingredients used in Aricept and Namenda.

Treating Related Behaviors and Mental Health Issues

It’s also important to treat behavioral symptoms related to Alzheimer’s, such as sleeplessness, wandering, agitation, anxiety and depression. All of these can contribute to worsening memory and thinking. 

Geriatrician Larry Lawhorne, MD, Wright State Physicians — Geriatrics — notes that sleep apnea is associated with changes in memory and thinking. He says, “Many people do much better if sleep apnea or sleep problems are addressed, because sleep rids the brain of toxins.”

Sleep aids, whether medications to help you get to sleep or breathing machines or mouthpieces to keep your airway open during sleep, all can be beneficial for your brain function. 

Other medications that may be helpful include antidepressants to improve mood, anti-convulsants for severe aggression, and antipsychotics for delusions, hallucinations and agitation. 

Do not take anticholinergic drugs such as Atrovent, Dramamine and Benadryl given for sleeping issues, motion sickness or asthma. These can cause additional confusion in a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

What’s Ahead?

Do What You Can Do small  

Dr. Lawhorne thinks Alzheimer’s disease may incorporate more than just one disease. “Currently, research on Alzheimer’s disease focuses on acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. I think we’re going to find that certain proteins and neurotransmitters are out of whack in people with Alzheimer’s.” 

He continues, “I think we’ll understand it better in the next few years, and I think it will be a number of diseases. As soon as we can home in on one neurotransmitter in an individual person — applying personalized medicine and genetics — I think that’s where the answer comes.”

Larry Lawhorne, MD

Larry Lawhorne, MD

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