Treatment and support of Alzheimer's disease
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there is a lot that can be done to enable someone to live well with the condition. Read about some of the drug and non-drug treatments, support and activities.
There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but there is a lot of support available to help someone live well with the condition. This includes drug treatments, and care and support without drugs. The person should have a chance to talk to a professional about their diagnosis who could be a:
- psychiatrist or mental health nurse
- clinical psychologist
- occupational therapist
- dementia adviser.
Information on the support available, and where to go for further advice, is very important for helping someone to stay physically and mentally well. Professionals such as the GP and staff at the memory service or local Alzheimer’s Society can give advice on the best support to help the person
and the people caring for them.
You can search for services in your area at
When the person is talking to professionals they may find it helpful to ask for written information that they can take away and read at their own pace.
Read information at your own pace
Our booklet, The dementia guide, is specifically for someone who has recently been diagnosed with dementia.
There are drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease that can temporarily ease symptoms, or slow down their progression, for some people. These drugs are often marketed under brand names (some of these are in brackets below).
A person in the mild (early) or moderate (middle) stages of Alzheimer’s disease or mixed dementia will usually be prescribed a drug such as:
- donepezil (for example, Aricept)
- rivastigmine (for example, Exelon)
- galantamine (for example, Reminyl).
The drug may reduce anxiety, help with memory problems, improve concentration and motivation, and help with aspects of daily living such as cooking, shopping or hobbies. They work by boosting the levels of some chemical messengers in the brain.
A person in the moderate or severe (late) stages of Alzheimer’s disease or mixed dementia may be offered a different kind of drug –memantine (for example, Ebixa). This may help with mental abilities (such as orientation) and daily living, and might also reduce behaviours that challenge or are
distressing (such as agitation and having delusions).
A wide range of other drugs may be prescribed at different times for a
person with dementia. These may include drugs for blood pressure or
diabetes, depression or anxiety, sleeping tablets or antipsychotics.
Drug treatments for Alzheimer's disease
There's no drug to cure dementia yet, but it's often possible to relieve some symptoms. Learn more about the main drug treatments available.
Support without drugs
There are many ways to help someone with dementia stay independent and cope with changes such as memory loss. These include practical things like supporting the person to have a routine or use a weekly pill box.
There are other assistive technology products available such as electronic reminders and calendar clocks. To see a range of products, including equipment and adaptations, go to Alzheimer’s Society’s online shop at alzheimers.org.uk/shop
If someone is depressed or anxious, they may want to try talking therapies (such as cognitive behavioural therapy). Counselling may help the person adjust to the diagnosis. Many people attend sessions to keep mentally active (cognitive stimulation) – memory services and local Alzheimer’s Society offices will have more information about what’s available in the area. Lots of people also like to do life story work, in which someone shares their life experiences and makes a personal record. This can help with their memory, mood and wellbeing.
Keeping mentally, physically and socially active can have a very positive impact on a person with Alzheimer’s disease. They should try to keep up with activities they enjoy and may also want to try new ones. For example:
- taking regular physical exercise such as swimming, walking or tai chi
- exercising their mind with reading or puzzles
- joining a group to sing, dance or make music
- doing arts, crafts or other hobbies
- visiting a local museum or gallery, or going on day trips.
Want more information on support without drugs?
Read more on talking therapies (including counselling, psychotherapy and CBT).
As the person’s dementia progresses, they may enjoy more general reminiscence activities such as talking about photographs or familiar objects. Activities may need to be adapted or done with an offer of support to make them enjoyable.
Over time, changes in the person’s behaviour such as agitation or aggression become more likely. These behaviours are often a sign that the person is in distress. This could be for different reasons – for example:
- the person is thirsty or hungry, too hot or too cold
- they are in pain or have another medical condition such as constipation or an infection
- their environment is too noisy, bright or cluttered
- they are confused because their glasses or hearing aids are not working or they’re not wearing them
- they misunderstood something or someone
- the person is frustrated or doesn’t have enough to keep them active.
Understanding the reason behind someone’s behaviour will help to support them. This can include making sure they have opportunities for social interaction, life story work, music, exercise or other activities they enjoy or find useful. These should be tried and, if they don’t work, the person should
be referred to a specialist such as a clinical psychologist before drugs are considered (especially antipsychotics).
More on changes in behaviour
As a person’s dementia progresses, they may begin to behave in ways that other people find difficult to understand.
Anyone caring for the person is likely to find these behaviours distressing and they should be supported as well as the person with Alzheimer’s.
As well as talking to their GP, there is a range of support available to carers.