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Treating Early Alzheimer’s
Source: The Care Guide
The latest news about medications and lifestyle choices.
There’s more research into Alzheimer’s disease today than ever before. There
isn’t a cure yet, but there are treatments available that can be effective in
many ways. They can slow the progress of the disease, stabilize the symptoms,
and in some cases even improve them for a period.
While the benefits of treatment are not permanent, they can heighten
quality of life and delay the onset of more severe symptoms. This means the
person may be able to function independently and live at home for longer than
without treatment. The earlier treatment is begun, the greater the chance it
will be effective.
In Canada there are three medications available for people with mild to
moderate Alzheimer’s. A person on medication may be better able to perform
household tasks, manage money and follow conversations.
More than half of all Canadians know someone with
Alzheimer’s. For one in four Canadians, it’s a family member.
“Life has been easier since I’ve been taking the medication,” says a woman
with early-stage Alzheimer’s who continues to work out at the gym and take art
classes. “I still do things that I was doing before I was diagnosed, and doing
them quite successfully.”
The medications have limitations. They don’t work for everyone, and work only
modestly in some. Still, even a modest effect can translate to important
benefits, such as prolonging independence, easing a caregiver’s workload and
delaying a move to a permanent care facility.
“Even delaying the onset of the disease by a few years would have
a huge effect”
It may take several months on medication before improvements are noticeable.
Also, the benefits are not permanent, although they may continue for a
considerable period of time. Even so, after the maximum benefit has been reached
and the patient is taken off the medication, the rate of decline may be slower
than in those without treatment.
While Alzheimer’s is a degenerative
disease, many people with the illness, especially those who have been diagnosed
early, continue to live active and meaningful lives for many years.
What Medication Can Do
There are three different medications to treat people with mild to moderate
- galantamine hydrobromide.
They’re in a class called cholinesterase inhibitors. They
work by affecting brain chemicals and helping to preserve the ability of nerve
cells to transmit messages.
Donepezil, also called Aricept, was the first drug approved for Alzheimer’s
and remains the most commonly used one. A 2006 British review of 23
international drug trials with donepezil, involving a total of more than 5,000
people, concluded that it offers benefits in cognitive function, activities of
daily living and behaviour.
Medication for Alzheimer’s is most effective when started early and used
consistently until maximum benefits are reached.
Canadians believe Alzheimer's carries a stigma. In a
national poll, four in five Canadians said being diagnosed with Alzheimer's
would cause other people to treat them differently.
Can Alzheimer’s Be Prevented?
There’s no medication that can prevent Alzheimer’s. But there’s increasing
evidence that healthy lifestyle choices may help lower the risk.
Some risk factors for Alzheimer’s – such as increasing age and genetics – we
can’t change. But others we can. Diabetes and stroke increase the risk of
developing Alzheimer’s, so by making healthy choices we may lower our risk of
developing those conditions.
Alzheimer's was identified 100 years ago by a German
doctor, but Canadians are now playing leading roles in reasearch.
Even delaying the onset of the disease by a few years would have a huge
effect. It’s estimated that a five-year delay in onset would cut the incidence
of Alzheimer’s in half, and a 10-year delay would virtually eliminate it.
- don’t smoke
- make healthy food choices, including lots of vegetables and fruit
- incorporate activity into your day. Regular walking has been shown to lower
blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and delay cognitive decline
- maintain a healthy weight
- talk to your doctor about controlling high blood pressure
- avoid excessive alcohol intake
It’s important, too, to stay mentally active and socially involved. Keep
learning new things, challenge your brain with books, puzzles or classes, and
spend time with family and friends.
The Alzheimer's Society of Canada, founded in 1978, was
the first Alzheimer's organization of its kind in the world.
For more information, contact the Alzheimer Society of Canada at
1-800-616-8816 or visit www.alzheimer.ca.
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