There is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, but there are treatments that can prevent some symptoms from getting worse for a limited time. Ongoing research offers hope that someday it may be possible to delay the onset of Alzheimer's, slow its progress, or prevent it altogether.
The course of Alzheimer's disease -- which symptoms appear and how quickly changes occur -- varies from person to person. The time from diagnosis to the end of life varies, too. It can be as little as 3 years if the person is over 80 years old when diagnosed, or as long as 10 years or more if the person is younger.
A person with Alzheimer's should be under a doctor's care and may see a neurologist, psychiatrist, family doctor, internist, or geriatrician (a specialist who treats older adults). The doctor can treat the person's physical and behavioral problems and answer the many questions that the person and his or her family may have.
No treatment can stop Alzheimer's disease. However, four drugs are used to treat symptoms of the disease. They may help maintain thinking, memory, and speaking skills and help with some behavioral problems for a limited time. These drugs work by regulating certain chemicals in the brain.
For people with mild or moderate Alzheimer's, donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), or galantamine (Razadyne) may help prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time. Donepezil is also approved for symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer's. Another drug, memantine (Namenda), is used to treat symptoms of moderate to severe Alzheimer's, although it is also limited in its effects.
All of these drugs have possible side effects, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. You should report any unusual symptoms to a doctor right away. It is important to follow a doctor's instructions when taking any medication.
Some medicines and other non-drug approaches can help control the behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. These symptoms include sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, anger, and depression. Treating these symptoms often makes patients more comfortable and makes their care easier for caregivers.