As research for a dementia cure continues, taking preventative measures to decrease the risk of developing dementia becomes crucial. Certain risk factors like age or genetic susceptibility cannot be changed or controlled, but there are many other factors that increase the probability of developing dementia. These factors include:
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Cardiovascular factors, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, hypertension, or obesity
- Mental health issues like depression
- High estrogen levels in women
- Head trauma
- High homocysteine levels
Certain lifestyle changes and preventative measures decrease the risk of developing dementia. Research suggests that it may be beneficial to:
- Stay physically active
- Stay socially active
- Participate in mentally stimulating activities, learn languages, or continue education
- Drink moderately
- Quit smoking and minimize drug use
- Eat a healthy diet. Research has found that a mediterranean diet high in fish, nuts, whole grains, and plant-based foods may be the most beneficial for dementia prevention.
- Adequately manage cardiovascular diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure
These measures aren’t only for individuals who want to prevent dementia – these lifestyle changes are also beneficial for those who are already diagnosed, as positive changes can slow the progression of dementia.
Medication For Dementia
Medication for reversible dementias
Some reversible dementias exist: for example, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause pernicious anemia, leading to dementia that can be treated by addressing the deficiency. Medication and supplements that can completely cure reversible dementias include:
- Vitamin B12 supplements for pernicious anemia
- Hormonal supplements for hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, or other imbalances
- SSRIs or other antidepressants for depression symptoms which may mimic dementia
- Antibiotics or medications to treat brain infections like encephalitis or meningitis
Medication for managing dementia symptoms
When a dementia condition cannot be treated, slowed, or reversed, doctors and medical professionals focus on medications that can make living with dementia easier and more manageable. There are several classes of medications proven to work at treating symptoms and reducing the effects of dementia, which include:
- Cholinesterase inhibitors: Aricept (donepezil), Razadyne (galantamine) and Exelon (rivastigmine). Cholinesterase inhibitors alleviate symptoms of Lewy-body dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by slowing the breakdown of Acetylcholinesterase, which plays a role in learning, memory, and cognitive skills. Cholinesterase inhibitors decrease disorientation, confusion, and memory problems, but can present unpleasant side effects like dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
- Glutamate inhibitors: Namenda (memantine) prevents the harmful overproduction of glutamate that accompanies dementia. Glutamate overproduction leads to increased cell damage and neurodegeneration, so memantine works to treat moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease by preventing this damage.
- Medications for managing mental health, mood, and behavioral issues: antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood-stabilizing medications. Dementia causes mood swings and increased anxiety and agitation, so mood-stabilizing medications can be helpful for alleviating symptoms. A high percentage of dementia sufferers are afflicted by depression, so antidepressants are used to increase wellbeing and quality of life. Although antipsychotics are sometimes prescribed for those with hallucinations and paranoia, they present a risk of dangerous side effects and are used in moderation and under careful supervision.
Side effects of medications used to alleviate dementia symptoms include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, slowed heart rate and diarrhea. A doctor or healthcare professional can prescribe the medication that best fits an individual’s condition and situation.
Research has shown that therapy improves well being, day-to-day functioning, and overall mood in dementia sufferers. Dementia is correlated with increased anxiety and depression, so professional counseling and a strong support system are integral to maintaining and improving overall well being. Patients can choose from many different types of therapy, including therapies that align with their interests like music or art therapy.
Cognitive Stimulation Therapy
Also known as CST, cognitive stimulation therapy is clinically proven to help those with mild to moderate dementia and is the premiere therapy method for dementia patients. CST involves training memory, language ability, and problem solving skills in order to improve cognitive functioning, and can increase memory and reasoning skills without medication.
Behavioral therapy is usually administered by qualified family or loved ones of dementia sufferers, or by the caregivers of afflicted individuals. This method is twice as effective as antipsychotics for treating symptoms like anxiety, aggression, depression, wandering, and insomnia. Behavioral therapy involves tackling the triggers or causes of unwanted behaviors like aggression or wandering in order to alleviate and provide outlets for these behaviors without medication. For example, a trained caregiver may find that feelings of restlessness or stress cause their patient to wander away from home, and can implement an exercise regimen to manage this restlessness.
Other dementia therapies can be beneficial based on the situation, and include:
- Montessori-Based Treatment
- Reality Orientation Therapy, which works to reduce confusion and disorientation that accompanies dementia by providing orienting information about time and location several times throughout the day.
- Validation Therapy, which involves discussing and accepting the ideas and values of dementia patients in order to foster positive communication and reduce stress for the sufferer.
Dementia hugely affects everyday functioning both for sufferers and for their loved ones, and coping with dementia can require major lifestyle and environmental changes. A comprehensive management system includes therapy and counseling to manage possible stress, anxiety, and depression. A patient suffering from more advanced stages of dementia may need a caregiver who can provide regular or semi-regular support.
Some tools that sufferers and caregivers can use to manage dementia include:
- External memory aids: systems or devices, whether electronic or not, that help make up for decreased memory. These can include alarms that remind patients to take medication, pictures, notes, message boards, or clocks with information to help reduce confusion and disorientation.
- Consistent daily routine: Establishing a daily rhythm is helpful for dementia patients, and a consistent schedule allows patients a higher level of stability and independence. Caregivers may also notice times of the day when patients are more cooperative and less disoriented – important events or activities should be scheduled for these periods.
- Stress management: Stressors and anxiety levels are different in each individual, so it’s helpful to experiment with several different stress management methods. Examples of stress-relieving techniques include exercise, calming music, interactions with pets and animals, meditation, and social interaction.
- Environment modifications: Factors like loud noises, bad lighting, glare-prone reflective surfaces, or clashing colors and patterns can cause agitation, anxiety, and disorientation in dementia patients. Create a peaceful, calming environment to help reduce stress in patients.