Treatments to reverse or halt disease progression are not available for most forms of dementia. Additionally, it is becoming increasingly clear that developing the various dementias have multiple causal and risk factors.

Thus, a one-size-fits-all solution to prevent, treat, or cure all dementias is highly unlikely. Instead, scientists believe that developing multi-prong approaches that include combining medication with lifestyle strategies is far more likely to offer improved outcomes for the most people affected.

Treatment Option Examples

As dementias are highly individualized, only a doctor can suggest what treatment options are best for any given individual. That said, to follow are treatment options for some of the more common forms of dementia.

Alzheimer's Disease (AD)

There are currently four clinically tested AD medications approved by the FDA that have been shown to provide some modest behavioral or cognitive benefit. However, the effectiveness of these medications varies from person to person – and, that effectiveness invariably diminishes over time.

  • donepezil (Aricept)
    • FDA-approved for mild, moderate and severe AD symptoms
    • Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • galantamine (Razadyne)
    • FDA-approved for mild and moderate AD symptoms
    • common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and loss of appetite
  • memantine (Namenda)
    • FDA-approved for moderate and severe AD symptoms, but not for mild AD symptoms (as currently, there's little evidence of benefit in the early-stages of AD)
    • common side effects include dizziness, headache, constipation, and confusion
  • rivastigmine (Exelon)
    • FDA-approved for mild and moderate AD symptoms
    • common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, and muscle weakness

For more specific information concerning AD-specific treatments, click here.

Vascular Dementia

There is no standard drug treatment for vascular dementia, although some of the symptoms, such as depression, can be treated. Most other vascular dementia treatments aim to reduce the risk factors associated with further brain damage.

There are studies that suggest that medications used for Alzheimer's disease (specifically cholinesterase inhibitors, such as galantamine (Razadyne)), can improve cognitive function and behavioral symptoms in patients with early vascular dementia.

Additionally, the progression of vascular dementia can often be slowed significantly or even halted, if the underlying vascular risk factors for the disease are treated soon enough. For example:

  • To help prevent strokes, doctors may prescribe medicines to control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • To help prevent clots from forming in small blood vessels, doctors sometimes prescribe aspirin, warfarin, or other drugs to prevent clots from forming in small blood vessels.
  • When patients have existing blockages in blood vessels, doctors may recommend surgical procedures to restore the normal blood supply, such as carotid endarterectomy, stenting, or angioplasty.
  • To relieve restlessness, depression, or to help patients sleep better, doctors have a wide variety of medications from which to choose.

Frontal Lobe Dementia (FTD, sometimes called "Frontotemporal dementia")

At present, no medications are approved specifically to treat or prevent FTD and most other types of progressive dementia. However, sedatives, antidepressants, and other medications may be useful in treating specific symptoms and behavioral problems associated with these diseases.

Lewy Body Dementia (LBD)

Current treatment for LBD focuses on relieving symptoms, often involving the use of medication to control the parkinsonian and psychiatric symptoms. However, while antiparkinsonian medication may help reduce tremor and loss of muscle movement, it can also worsen symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. Also, drugs prescribed for psychiatric symptoms may make the movement problems worse.