By Tenille L. Lawson, PharmD, BCPD
The Alzheimer’s Association is currently funding over 400 projects to address the growing concerns of approximately 5.7 million Americans who battle Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). This overwhelming statistic is expected to triple by 2050 according to the Center for Disease Control. Because there is no cure, investigators are actively seeking to discover new ways to treat, diagnose and prevent this debilitating disease.
Current research has revealed links between developing AD and having a history of health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Experts agree that maintaining a healthy diet, exercising consistently and staying socially active contributes to healthy brain function. Engaging in talk therapy, singing, dancing, or painting are often suggested prior to considering medication therapy.
Currently, the medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to address mild to moderate symptoms include donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine. Multiple options are available for those unable to take these orally. These medications work by increasing a substance in the brain that helps promote thinking, memory, and understanding. The hope is to sustain the ability to complete day-to-day tasks that were once easy to do but with disease progression, become increasingly difficult and frustrating.
Caregivers may notice an inability to manage finances, recall recent activities or find misplaced items. Behavioral changes should be discussed with the involved medical team along with any side effects such as nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss or diarrhea. After a period of time, however, therapy changes will be required as brain cell function continues to decline.
Memantine alone or in combination with donepezil can be used to treat more progressive symptoms in this moderate to severe phase. Side effects such as nausea and vomiting can occur in addition to headaches or dizziness. At this stage, caregivers may not be able to take care of their loved ones on their own.
Seeking assistance from facilities or in-home care will provide additional options as caregivers adjust to the changes in their loved one’s ability to perform activities of daily living.
In addition to treatment, family members and caregivers can help to preserve the memory of the patient by journaling and adding photos of happier times.
Copyright July 2018. Tenille Lawson, PharmD, University, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, 1995-2001. Lawson has over 9 years retail experience and 7 years in hematology/oncology. She enjoys sharing medical information for the benefit of those it serves.