News - 5th February 2019

What drug treatments are there for dementia?

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Do you know that dementia is the only condition in the top 10 causes of death in the UK without a treatment to prevent, cure or slow its progression?


There are, however, drugs which can help people with their symptoms.


People with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, are often prescribed drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors.


There are three types – donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine. They all work in a similar way and although no difference in the effectiveness of the three has been shown, some people respond better to one drug than another or have fewer side effects.


These drugs work by helping nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other.


People with Alzheimer’s may find these drugs help improve their thinking, memory, communication and day-to-day activities or help these stay the same for a period of time.


However, these drugs don’t work for everyone and are recommended specifically for people with mild or moderate symptoms. They also don’t stop the disease from progressing in the brain, so symptoms will continue to get worse over time.


Cholinesterase inhibitors may also be prescribed for people with dementia with Lewy bodies to help with hallucinations, confusion and sleep problems.


Another drug, memantine, is recommended as an option for people with severe Alzheimer’s and for people with moderate Alzheimer’s if cholinesterase inhibitors don’t help or are not suitable. Memantine also help nerves cells in the brain communicate with each other.


There are no specific treatments for people with vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia. However, as this type of dementia is linked to risk factors for vascular disease, like high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and stroke and heart problems, doctors may prescribe treatments for these. It’s possible treating these conditions could slow the development of vascular dementia although more research is needed in this area and studies are currently in progress.


As depression is common in all forms of dementia, people may be prescribed an antidepressant. Antipsychotic drugs are sometimes given to people with dementia who are severely distressed although as they can have serious side effects other non-drug measures should be tried first.


For more information about the treatments available for people with dementia click here.


New treatments for people with dementia are desperately needed. To find out how you can support dementia research and help scientists discover new treatments and find ways of tackling the diseases that cause dementia, click here.

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