- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Treatments for Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's Disease Is A Growing Problem
In the United States, there are now about 5.4 million people with Alzheimer's disease (AD), according to the Alzheimer's Association. Between the years 2000 and 2008, there was a 66% increase in the number of deaths due to Alzheimer's disease in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AD was the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2007 when 74,632 people died because of it.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that facilitate the transmission of signals from one nerve cell to another. Prescription medications for Alzheimer's disease affect brain levels of acetylcholine and glutamate, neurotransmitters that are important for learning, memory and motor function. According to the Mayo Clinic, Donepezil, galantamine and rivastigmine are oral drugs that can slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease. They are in a class of drugs called acetylcholinesterase inhibitors which means they block an enzyme that is responsible for the breakdown of acetylcholine. By preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, these drugs allow brain levels of this neurotransmitter to increase. Increased brain levels of acetylcholine means that nerve cells in the brain can work better, and this means that memory and learning skills will not decline as quickly as they would without treatment. The most common side effects of these medications are diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Memantine is another oral, prescription medication for Alzheimer's disease, and it works by blocking the NMDA receptor, the binding site for the neurotransmitter glutamate. By blocking this receptor, memantine decreases the effects of glutamate and prevents damage to nerve cells that occurs from excessive stimulation by glutamate. In this way, memantine can help to keep Alzheimer's symptoms at bay, but it can't stop the progression of the disease. Fatigue, pain, dizziness and headache are the most common side effect of memantine.
In April 2010, a panel of experts convened by the National Insititutes of Health issued its findings related to the use of alternative therapies for Alzheimer's disease. One conclusion of the panel was that there is not enough scientific evidence to say that vitamins B, C, E, folic acid and beta-carotene offer any benefit as treatments to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. In reference to omega-3 fatty acids, the panel concluded that there is some evidence that these fatty acids may help prevent cognitive decline, but this evidence is not definitive. A clinical study of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) on 402 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease was published in the November 2010 issue of the "Journal of the American Medical Association." The conclusion of this study was that dietary supplementation with DHA did not slow the rate of cognitive or functional decline in the patients.
It is important for people with Alzheimer's disease to keep in mind that alternative treatments may interact with prescription medications they might be taking. This interaction may lead to serious medical consequences. You should not take any kind of alternative treatment for Alzheimer's disease without first consulting your doctor.