Alzheimers and Dementia

Where to get help - Issued by Alzheimer's South Africa

How is AD Treated?

AD is a slow disease, starting with mild memory problems and ending with severe brain damage. The course the disease takes and how fast changes occur vary from person to person. On average, AD patients live from 8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed, though the disease can last for as many as 20 years. No treatment can stop AD but for some people in the early and middle stages of the disease, the drugs donepezil (Aricept®), rivastigmine (Exelon®), or galantamine (Reminyl®) may help prevent some symptoms from becoming worse, for a limited time. Also, some medicines may help control behavioural symptoms of AD such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression. Treating these symptoms often makes patients more comfortable and makes their care easier for caregivers.

In the later stages, memantine (Ebixa®) is sometimes prescribed. Developing new treatments for AD is an active area of research. Scientists are testing a number of drugs to see if they prevent AD, slow the disease, or help reduce behavioural symptoms. Research has shown that vitamin E slows the progress of some consequences of AD. Scientists (now) are studying vitamin E to learn whether it can prevent or delay AD in patients with MCI.

Scientists are testing two different types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to find out if they slow the disease. There is evidence that inflammation in the brain may contribute to AD damage. Scientists believe that anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs might help slow the progression of AD. Recent research suggests that ginkgo biloba, an extract made from the leaves of the ginkgo tree, may be of some help in treating AD symptoms. There is no evidence that ginkgo will cure or prevent AD. Scientists (now) are trying to find out whether ginkgo biloba can delay or prevent dementia in older people. Anyone taking blood-thinning drugs such as aspirin or warfarin should be cautious, as ginkgo biloba reduces the body's ability to form clots, which could lead to excessive bleeding. Research also is under way to see if oestrogen reduces the risk of AD or slows the disease. One study showed that oestrogen does not slow the progression of already diagnosed disease, but more research is needed to find out if it may play another role. For example, scientists (now) are trying to find out whether oestrogen can prevent AD in women with a family history of the disease. People with AD and those with MCI who want to help scientists test possible treatments may be able to take part in clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies to find out whether a new treatment is both safe and effective. Healthy people also can help scientists learn more about the brain and AD.

Trans-50 does not endorse the use of any specific medication or form of treatment.

To find out more about these studies, contact the Mental Health Information Centre for a clinical drug trial unit closest to you, tel. (021) 938 9229. Is There Help for Caregivers? Most often, spouses or other family members provide the day-to-day care for people with AD. As the disease gets worse, people often need more and more care. This can be hard for caregivers and can affect their physical and mental health, family life, job, and finances. Alzheimer's South Africa has branches across the country that provide education and support for caregivers and family members of people with AD. For more information, contact the national helpline on 0860 102 681 or (011) 478 2234. Visit the website, or email . Please note that Alzheimer's SA does not endorse the use of any medicine or treatment.