Dementia Treatment Drugs
Diagnosing dementia and determining what type it is can be challenging. A diagnosis of dementia requires that at least two core mental functions be impaired enough to interfere with daily living. They are memory, language skills, ability to focus and pay attention, ability to reason and problem-solve, and visual perception.
Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and conduct a physical examination. He or she will likely ask someone close to you about your symptoms, as well.
No single test can diagnose dementia, so doctors are likely to run a number of tests that can help pinpoint the problem.
Cognitive and neuropsychological tests
Doctors will evaluate your thinking (cognitive) function. A number of tests measure thinking skills such as memory, orientation, reasoning and judgment, language skills, and attention.
Doctors evaluate your memory, language, visual perception, attention, problem-solving, movement, senses, balance, reflexes and other areas.
CT or MRI. These scans can check for evidence of stroke or bleeding or tumor or hydrocephalus.
PET scans. These can show patterns of brain activity and if the amyloid protein, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, has been deposited in the brain.
Simple blood tests can detect physical problems that can affect brain function, such as vitamin B-12 deficiency or an underactive thyroid gland. Sometimes the spinal fluid is examined for infection, inflammation or markers of some degenerative diseases.
A mental health professional can determine whether depression or another mental health condition is contributing to your symptoms.
Most types of dementia can’t be cured, but there are ways to manage your symptoms.
The following are used to temporarily improve dementia symptoms.
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.
Although primarily used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, these medications might also be prescribed for other dementias, including vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia and Lewy body dementia.
Side effects can include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Memantine. Memantine (Namenda) works by regulating the activity of glutamate, another chemical messenger involved in brain functions, such as learning and memory. In some cases, memantine is prescribed with a cholinesterase inhibitor.
A common side effect of memantine is dizziness.
Other medications. Your doctor might prescribe medications to treat other symptoms or conditions, such as depression, sleep disturbances or agitation.
Several dementia symptoms and behavior problems might be treated initially using nondrug approaches, such as:
Occupational therapy. An occupational therapist can show you how to make your home safer and teach coping behaviors. The purpose is to prevent accidents, such as falls; manage behavior; and prepare you for the dementia progression.
Modifying the environment. Reducing clutter and noise can make it easier for someone with dementia to focus and function. You might need to hide objects that can threaten safety, such as knives and car keys. Monitoring systems can alert you if the person with dementia wanders.
Modifying tasks. Break tasks into easier steps and focus on success, not failure. Structure and routine also help reduce confusion in people with dementia.