What is dementia?

7. How is dementia treated?

The vast majority of causes of dementia cannot be cured, although research is continuing into developing drugs, vaccines and other medical treatments. There is a lot that can be done to enable someone with dementia to live well with the condition. Care and support should be ‘person-centred’. This means it should be focused on that person and their individual needs and preferences.

Non-drug treatments and support

There are a range of non-drug treatments available that can help someone to live well with dementia. These include information, advice, support, therapies and activities. The GP, memory service or local Alzheimer’s Society are good places to start for more information on what is available.

Support for the person and their carer should be available after a diagnosis. This should give them the chance to talk things over with a professional, ask questions about the diagnosis, and think about the future. It’s also important to get information on planning ahead, where to get help with this and how to stay well, both physically and mentally. Other types of treatment include the following:

  • Talking therapies, such as counselling, can help someone come to terms with their diagnosis or discuss their feelings.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may be offered if the person develops depression or anxiety.
  • Cognitive stimulation therapy is a popular way to help keep someone’s mind active. It involves doing themed activity sessions over several weeks.
  • Cognitive rehabilitation can enable an individual to retain skills and cope better. There is also lots that can be done at home to help someone with dementia remain independent and live well with memory loss. Support ranges from devices such as pill boxes or calendar clocks to practical tips on how to develop routines or break tasks into simpler steps.
  • Many people with dementia enjoy life story work, in which the person is encouraged to share their life experiences and memories. As a person’s dementia progresses, the may also enjoy reminiscence work. Such activities may help improve someone’s mood, wellbeing and mental abilities.
  • Other popular activities include music, singing or art. It is vital that people with dementia stay as active as they can – physically, mentally and socially. Taking part in meaningful activities is enjoyable and leads to increased confidence and self-esteem.

Drug treatments

There are drugs that can help with the symptoms of dementia , or that in some cases may stop them progressing for a while.

A person with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease or mixed dementia in which Alzheimer’s is the main cause may be prescribed one of three different drugs: donepezil, rivastigmine or galantamine. These may give temporary help with memory, motivation, concentration and daily living. In the moderate or severe stages of Alzheimer’s disease someone may be offered a different drug called memantine. This may help with attention and daily living, and possibly ease distressing or challenging behaviours.

Donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine can also be helpful for someone with dementia with Lewy bodies who has distressing hallucinations or delusions, or who has behaviours that challenge (for example, agitation or aggression).

For a person with vascular dementia, drugs will be offered to treat the underlying medical conditions that cause dementia. These conditions often include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart problems. Controlling these may help slow the progression of dementia.

A wide range of other drugs may be prescribed at different times for a person with dementia. These include drugs for depression or anxiety, sleeping tablets or antipsychotics. Note that some of these drugs can have severe side effects. Not all are recommended for all types of dementia. Health professionals will generally recommend that a non-drug approach is tried first before prescribing medication, unless a person’s symptoms are very severe. For more information see our factsheets on 'Drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease' and 'Drugs for behavioural and psychological symptoms in dementia'.