Treatment and support of Alzheimer's disease
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease yet. However, with the right care and support, it is possible for someone with Alzheimer's to live as well as possible for as long as possible.
Support can include useful information, support from family, friends and the wider community as well as treating symptoms with medicines and other therapies.
The person with Alzheimer’s and those caring for them should be offered support soon after a diagnosis. This should give them the chance to talk to a professional about what’s important to them, ask questions about the diagnosis, and start to think about the future and planning ahead.
Person centred care
Care and support for a person with Alzheimer’s should always aim to be ‘person-centred’. This means it should be focused specifically on the needs of the individual person, not just on their condition.
It should take into account their life history and background, relationships, needs and preferences. They should always be included in any decisions about their care and support.
Medicines to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Taking a medicine to help with memory and thinking can help many people live well with Alzheimer’s disease. These cannot stop the physical disease from progressing in the brain, but in some cases they may delay the symptoms getting worse.
A wide range of medicines may be prescribed at different times for a person with Alzheimer’s. These might be for:
- depression or anxiety
- sleep disorders
- delusions, and hallucinations
- physical problems such as incontinence or pain.
It’s important that the person asks their GP for a medication review every year to make sure that the medicines they are taking are still right for them and that they aren’t taking more than they need to.
If a person is in distress, health professionals will generally recommend trying approaches that don’t involve medication first before prescribing something, unless a person’s symptoms are very severe and there is a risk of harm to them or others.
Drug treatments and medication for Alzheimer's disease
There is also a range of support services that can help a person live well with Alzheimer’s. These may include:
- local dementia advisers and dementia support workers – who can offer support, practical advice and information over the phone, face to face or online
- homecare workers and personal assistants – who can help in and around the home
- respite care (temporary or short-term care) – to allow the person with dementia or their carer to take a break
- specialist dementia nurses – who can provide practical, clinical and emotional support to the person and their family, such as NHS clinical nurse specialists or Admiral nurses
- day centres – where the person can do activities and connect with others in a friendly and safe venue
- online communities – for example Talking Point.
Practical aids, adaptations and technology
During the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may be able to improve their ability to do everyday activities by using a range of coping strategies, practical aids and tools. Their home should also help them stay safe. Small adaptations can make a big difference in making it easier and more comfortable for the person.
There are many simple ways of making it easier to live with the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Not all of these will be helpful for everyone, but include:
- using a calendar, diary or calendar clock to remind the person about dates, appointments and events
- putting labels on cupboards to show what’s inside
- setting reminders for tasks or appointments on a smartphone or tablet
- using mental pictures, or words and rhymes, to remember new information
- using technology such as virtual assistants that respond to the person’s voice.
These can help a person with mild-to-moderate memory loss to do more, reduce their levels of frustration and remain more independent for as long as possible.
It is important that anyone supporting a person with Alzheimer’s understands memory loss and how they can help the person to cope with it.
Visit our online shop
We have a great range of products designed to help people with dementia and their carers to be more comfortable in their homes, whilst supporting independence and safety.
Therapy and structured activities
There are many activities and therapies that can help a person with Alzheimer’s to maintain their abilities for as long as possible and to look after their physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Cognitive stimulation therapy (CST) – This is a popular way to help keep someone’s mind active. It involves doing themed activity sessions over several weeks.
- Cognitive rehabilitation – This is skills training that is tailored to a person’s needs and abilities. It can enable the person to keep their thinking skills, meet their goals and cope better with the symptoms of dementia. My life, my goals can help. This is an electronic resource to support people living with dementia with what they want to be able to do. It sets out meaningful goals based on what matters to them.
- Talking therapies, including counselling – These can help someone come to terms with their diagnosis or discuss their feelings.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – This may be offered if the person develops depression or anxiety. It is most useful in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Life story work – This is where the person is encouraged to record their life experiences and memories. Knowing about a person’s life experiences may help others to provide person-centred care for them. Recording this information early on can also be helpful in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease when a person may not be able to communicate this information.
- Reminiscence work – As a person’s dementia progresses, they may also enjoy talking about their past, with the help of things like photos, familiar objects or music.
- Music and creative arts therapies – These are sessions where the person can get creative, such as by making music, playing an instrument, and painting.
Some of these therapies may not be freely available in certain places. It may be necessary to search a wider area or pay privately to access them.
Keeping healthy and seeing the GP
A person with Alzheimer’s disease shouldn’t feel unwell physically or mentally. It is important to have regular sight and hearing tests as well as dental check-ups. Taking part in meaningful activities can be enjoyable and helps to increase confidence and self-esteem. It’s also important to:
- eat and drink healthily
- get enough sleep
- keep in touch with friends and family
- keep active – physically, mentally and socially.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, some people may feel agitated and distressed. This may be because they are struggling to communicate a need or a feeling, or to understand what is going on around them. Positive interactions with other people, or activities matched to a person’s abilities and interests, can help.
It is important to regularly see a GP, who can help manage any health problems including depression and anxiety or refer someone to the right support and expertise when they need it. They should also review a person’s care and support at least annually.
Find support near you
Use our dementia directory to find support services and activities near to where you live.
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