Treating Dementia

Many people wonder, "Is dementia inevitable?" In some cases, dementia is caused by a medical conditions that can be treated. Treatment of these causes can restore some or all mental function. Here's what you need to know about the current state of treating dementia. 

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.Memory loss is an example. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia.


Dementia Treatment Options

When Dementia can be Reversed: Treat the causes

  • Low Vitamin B12 or a deficiency: Increase intake
  • Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid disease: Take thyroid hormones 
  • Larger brain health issues: Surgery to remove brain tumors or reducing brain pressure
  • Stop or change medicines that are causing memory loss or confusion.
  • Encephalitis: Inflammation of the brain tissue: Take medicines to treat this infection
  • Treat symptoms or diagnosis of depression

When Dementia can't be Reversed: 

Treatment when dementia can't be reversed

If the cause of dementia cannot be treated, a physician should work with each patient individually to understand their lifestyle and most harmful symptoms. A plan can be developed  to make life easier and more comfortable. 

Care plans may include:

  • Tips to improve independence with daily tasks and manage daily life as long as possible. Patients may want to consider home treatment.
  • Medicine. While medicines cannot cure dementia, they may help improve mental function, mood, or behavior.
  • Support and counseling. A diagnosis of dementia can create feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety. Someone in the early stage should seek emotional support from family, friends, and perhaps a counselor experienced in working with people who have dementia.

Medications for Treating Dementia

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors. These medications — including donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon) and galantamine (Razadyne) — work by boosting levels of a chemical messenger involved in memory and judgment.

    • Side effects can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Although primarily used to treat Alzheimer's disease, these medications may also treat vascular dementia, Parkinson's disease dementia and Lewy body dementia.

  • Memantine works by regulating the activity of glutamate. Glutamate is another chemical messenger involved in brain functions, such as learning and memory. A common side effect of memantine is dizziness.

Therapies for Dementia

Several dementia symptoms and behavior problems may be treated initially using non-drug approaches, such as:

  • Modifying the environment. Reducing clutter and distracting noise can make it easier for someone with dementia to focus and function. It also may reduce confusion and frustration.
  • Modifying your responses. A caregiver's response to a behavior can make the behavior, such as agitation, worse. It's best to avoid correcting and quizzing a person with dementia. Reassuring the person and validating his or her concerns can defuse most situations.
  • Modifying tasks. Break tasks into easier steps and focus on success, not failure. Structure and routine during the day also help reduce confusion in people with dementia.
  • Occupational therapy. Your doctor may suggest occupational therapy to help you adjust to living with dementia. Therapists may teach you coping behaviors and ways to adapt movements and daily living activities as your condition changes.

Planning for the future

It's important for both men and women to understand the importance of making decisions while their loved one suffering from Alzheimer's can take part. Education of the family and other caregivers is crucial to ensure success in caring for someone who has Alzheimer's. 

These are difficult but important conversations. Questions may include:

  • What kind of care does he or she need right now?
  • Who will take care of him or her in the future?
  • What can the family expect as the disease progresses?
  • What kind of financial and legal planning needs to be done?