Dementia treatment is more than just medication use. It can mean lifestyle changes, multimodal therapy, and environmental management, as well.
Dementia is a term often used synonymously with Alzheimer’s disease. While it’s true that Alzheimer’s disease accounts for a large number of people living with dementia, dementia is a form of cognitive decline that occurs in multiple conditions.
Dementia is characterized by memory loss, behavioral disturbances, and cognitive changes, and affects more than
There’s currently no cure for dementia. Treatment depends on underlying causes, but it almost always involves a multifaceted approach including lifestyle changes, medication, and environmental management.
Types of dementia
Dementia can have many different causes. Some of the most common types of dementia include:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- dementia with Lewy bodies
- vascular dementia
- frontotemporal dementia
- mixed dementia
Approximately 90% of dementia cases can be attributed to Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
Dementia treatment depends on underlying causes and how advanced your condition is.
Not everyone needs significant lifestyle or medication treatments, particularly in early stage dementia when symptoms aren’t causing a major impact on daily life.
As dementia progresses, and more personal care assistance is needed, treatments focus on improving quality of life, reducing symptom severity, and slowing disease progression, if possible.
Medications for treating dementia
Although each case of dementia may have a different underlying cause, the medications used in treatment often overlap.
Currently, two medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help slow the biological changes associated with certain types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease:
- aducanumab (Aduhelm)
- lecanemab (Leqembi)
These medications are called anti-amyloid treatments. They work by removing beta-amyloid, a protein that can build up in your brain and contribute to neuron loss.
Other medications are there to help manage the severity of your symptoms.
Of these, some of the most commonly used in dementia are cholinesterase inhibitors, which prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory.
Common cholinesterase inhibitors
- glantamine (Razadyne)
- donepezil (Aricept)
- rivastigmine (Exelon)
You may also be prescribed medications that help regulate other types of neurotransmitters, such as glutamate regulators (memantine) or an orexin receptor antagonist (suvorexant).
These prescriptions can help symptoms of memory, attention, reasoning, and sleep-wake cycles by improving neural communication in your brain.
Dementia isn’t just about changes to memory and thinking. As neuron loss occurs other symptoms can emerge, including depression, anxiety, agitation, and psychosis.
These are known as behavioral disturbances.
Many of the medications traditionally used to treat these symptoms in other scenarios can make dementia worse. For this reason, nonmedication management is preferred when possible.
Nonmedication treatment for dementia can include:
Lifestyle changes can also be
Occasionally, the benefits of using medications for behavioral disturbances outweigh the risks. Your healthcare team might add sleep aids, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety meds, or anticonvulsants to your treatment plan after careful consideration.
Getting involved in clinical trials
If you’re living with dementia, participating in a clinical trial may offer you the opportunity to try the latest treatment advances while paving the way for others also living with this condition.
You can access dementia clinical trial openings by visiting:
- Alzheimer’s Association TrialMarch
- HHS Find Clinical Trials
NIH Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers
You can learn more about what it means to participate in a clinical trial by
No supplement, diet, or herbal remedy has been scientifically proven to help symptoms or slow disease progression once you’ve developed dementia.
If you’ve decided to include an alternative treatment, your healthcare team can determine if there are any concerns or possible interactions with your current prescriptions.
In general, many at-home treatments are unregulated, and their safety and efficacy are unknown and unproven.
Complimentary medical treatments such as massage, acupuncture, yoga, and therapeutic touch won’t cure dementia. But they may be beneficial for managing discomfort that can come along with cognitive decline.
Psychotherapy in dementia is considered the most impactful during the early stages of the condition before communication and comprehension decline significantly.
During this time, you can speak with a therapist about many of the feelings and experiences that accompany cognitive decline.
According to a
Therapy can also help you develop useful skills for daily task management as your functionality changes. Common therapy options include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- problem adaptation therapy
- reminiscence therapy
- interpersonal therapy
- mindfulness-based therapy
Most dementia behaviors aren’t calculated, malicious misdeeds. They usually stem from overstimulation, confusion, pain, fear, frustration, or stress.
If you’re providing for someone experiencing cognitive impairment, how you manage their environment can have a big impact.
As a caretaker, you can help improve behavioral symptoms of dementia by:
- using calm, reassuring language
- asking permission to assist your loved one
- involving them in relaxing activities like listening to music
- limiting noise and distractions in the environment
- simplifying tasks
- providing memory cues, like labels
- adding lighting to reduce confusion
- providing plenty of rest opportunities between activities
- monitoring personal comfort
- offering limited, guided choices
Make sure you’re also looking after your own mental health. A therapist can help you develop useful communication strategies and healthy coping mechanisms for your emotions around being a caregiver.
Dementia treatment isn’t just taking pills every day. It often involves a collaborative approach with specialists, caregivers, and support networks.
There’s no cure for dementia, but it’s possible through nonmedication approaches to learn new ways to adapt to the everyday challenges of cognitive impairment.
Some forms of dementia can improve with lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, diet changes, and exercise.