Managing Symptoms in the Later Stages of Alzheimer’s
Symptom management in Alzheimer’s helps people remain independent for longer.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects more than one in every 9 Americans over the age of 65. There are two FDA-approved drugs that may slow the course of the disease — Leqembi and Aduhelm, designed for people in the earliest stages of the disease. Many people don’t get a diagnosis early enough to qualify for these drugs, but most live between five to 20 more years with the disease — and for many of those years, with good management of Alzheimer’s symptoms, they may still live relatively independent lives.
While there are only two drugs out there that can treat the disease itself, there are a number of FDA-approved drugs for the disease’s symptoms, like memory loss, difficulty learning new information, and trouble with spatial awareness. Managing symptoms throughout the course of the disease can help people live independently for longer.
Beyond medications, there are environmental modifications, from home modifications to community-wide dementia-inclusive design that can help people with Alzheimer’s live independently for longer. Here are a few.
Managing cognitive symptoms with drugs
There are two different types of symptom-management drugs available for treating the later stages of Alzheimer’s. Aricept, Excelon and Razadyne are cholinesterase inhibitor drugs while Namenda is an NMDA receptor inhibitor. Cholinesterase inhibitors work by prolonging the activity of an important brain signaling molecule called acetylcholine. NMDA receptor inhibitors help prevent brain cells from firing too often and damaging themselves.
Through these effects, these drugs boost cognitive function, making it easier for people with Alzheimer’s to go about their daily lives. Some of these treatments also come as patches that are applied to the skin. This helps reduce unpleasant side effects like nausea and diarrhea.
There are also new drugs being developed to address unmet needs. Rexulti may soon be approved by the FDA for treating agitation. Another drug in development is hoping to turbocharge the effect of Aricept to boost its cognitive benefits.
Dementia-inclusive activities and design
As people progress to the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, it becomes harder to keep safe at home. There are many simple changes that help reduce confusion, agitation, and disorientation.
Some tips include:
- Clearing floor clutter to prevent falls
- Installing guardrails
- Using clear labels for rooms and important objects to reduce confusion
- Improving lighting and contrast in the home
Grant Warner, who specializes in designing senior living spaces for the architectural firm HKS makes suggestions to improve kitchen safety. People may forget to turn off the stove for hours on end, which causes smoke or fires. Automatic shut off options and fire extinguishing systems help protect the patient.
The bottom line
In the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and other types of cognitive impairment become more severe. Fortunately, there are science-backed approaches that help people live independently for longer, and as research continues to reveal more about the disease, how it progresses through the brain, and how to treat and manage it, options to improve the quality of life for people with a diagnosis are continuing to expand.
To learn about clinical trials of new medications that aim to modify the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, call Charter Research at 407-337-1000 (Orlando) or 352-775-1000 (The Villages).