There is no known cure for dementia at present. Scientists from around the world are involved in research to try to find one. However, there are drugs that can help to improve some of the symptoms or stop them progressing for a while, depending on the type of dementia. Ask your GP or community pharmacist for further advice about managing your medicines. Other physical illnesses need to be treated so try to Stay Healthy. Non-drug Treatments and support after diagnosis are also available to help you live well with dementia.
Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitors are used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. They are not usually recommended for other forms of dementia because the evidence for their effectiveness is limited and, in some cases, may make symptoms worse. One exception is for people living with dementia with Lewy bodies that have distressed behaviour, such as delusions or hallucinations, which are causing them significant stress or leading to distressed behaviour. Acetylcholinesterase Inhibitors work by preventing the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, as low levels of acetylcholine have been linked to distressed behaviour.
Some people who have moderate or late stage Alzheimer’s disease but can’t take any of the drugs above because of side effects might be offered Memantine – Ebixa. It works by protecting brain cells from the harmful effects of a natural substance called glutamate. People with Alzheimer’s disease often have harmfully high levels of glutamate in their brains.
The four drugs described in the previous section aren’t recommended for vascular dementia unless this is part of mixed dementia with Alzheimer’s Disease. It may be possible to slow down the progression of vascular dementia by taking drugs that treat the underlying conditions. The GP will often prescribe drugs for people with vascular dementia who are at risk of having a stroke or heart attack by treating high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart problems. (In many cases the person will already be taking some drugs to control these conditions.)
Dementia with Lewy Bodies
Someone with Dementia with Lewy Bodies might be offered one of the three anti-Alzheimer’s drugs (Donepezil, Rivastigmine or Galantamine). In particular, they may benefit from one of these if they have distressing symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions.
The drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease haven’t been shown to offer any benefits to people with frontotemporal dementia and may even be harmful. They are not approved for treating frontotemporal dementia and generally shouldn’t be prescribed. It is common for people with behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia to be prescribed antidepressant medication. This can reduce inappropriate and obsessive or compulsive behaviours.
See also Managing medicines