Most people know someone or have lived with someone who has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. For those who do not know, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is a progressive form of dementia that impacts someone’s ability to learn, recognize, and remember certain ideas or facts.
People will start to notice that patients suffering from Alzheimer’s will have trouble remembering where they put their items, recognizing certain faces, and performing executive tasks. This is a disease that is best treated if caught early. Therefore, it is imperative to understand the treatment options that are available. These options will be described below.
To understand the intricacies of Alzheimer’s disease treatment, you need to also understand how the disease works. Here is a simplified explanation:
The brain functions using neurons that communicate with each other. Neurons are used to retrieve memories, perform tasks, and receive sensory input. To communicate with each other, neurons use certain chemicals called neurotransmitters. (Examples of neurotransmitters include acetylcholine and glutamate.) In Alzheimer’s disease, these neurons are destroyed. The treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease target the preservation of these neurons and the neurotransmitters.
The basis of Alzheimer’s disease treatment has been focused for years on the preservation of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a key neurotransmitter that helps the neurons to function. Research has shown that Alzheimer’s disease destroys neurons that use acetylcholine. Therefore, most treatment plans will include some form of an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Examples of these drugs include donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine.
People who have cared for patients with Alzheimer’s disease have undoubtedly heard of these drugs before. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors block the enzyme that degrades acetylcholine. Therefore, patients taking acetylcholinesterase inhibitors well enjoy an increased supply of acetylcholine. This helps to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the newer drugs on the market is called the Memantine. This drug is an NMDA receptor antagonist. An NMDA receptor regulates the activity of a neurotransmitter called glutamate. Glutamate is a vital neurotransmitter in the learning process as well as the development of memories. This is a neurotransmitter that actually is increased in Alzheimer’s disease. When the neurons are destroyed, the glutamate is released from the damage cells. This only accelerates the damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Memantine blocks this damage by blocking the NMDA receptors. This helps to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
This disease is an active area of research with new treatments being released regularly. It is important that patients and family members of patients with Alzheimer’s disease educate themselves on the treatment options available. In addition, family members of patients with Alzheimer’s disease should remember that patience and compassion is key in caring for an individual suffering from this damaging disease.
The warmth of loved ones will help to keep patients with Alzheimer’s disease oriented to their surroundings and help to slow the progression of symptoms. While it can be frustrating to deal with patients with Alzheimer’s disease, remember that they cannot control what is happening to them. Show love and compassion because they are the ones who need it most.
As always, please consult with your loved one’s physician before opting for any medical treatments.