There are many ways a person with dementia can be helped to cope with their symptoms and improve their quality of life. In some cases, it may be possible to slow the progression of dementia, although there is no cure.
General care and support
The most important thing is general care and support.
To a person with dementia, the world is a confusing and sometimes hostile place. So it is a great help to have people around them to who take the time to help them understand what is going on and to offer emotional and physical support.
Cognitive stimulation and reality orientation therapy
These therapies involve activities designed to stimulate the person's mind and remind them of who they are, where they are and what they are doing. These can be done by anybody.
This therapy uses a different strategy to try to change a particular behaviour, such as wandering or aggression. Behavioural therapy is usually provided by a carer or trained friend or relative.
Validation therapy helps the person feel secure by accepting their reality. Rather than correcting them when they are experiencing things from the past, you acknowledge and empathise with their feelings. This builds their dignity and self-esteem.
Music can be used as a formal therapy or simply for enjoyment. It can also help in the management of difficult behaviours. It helps trigger people's memories and feelings, and can help the person to communicate.
Reminiscence is a way of reviewing the past in a positive and rewarding way. Even if the person with dementia can't speak, they can still get pleasure from being involved in thinking about their past. It can also help to distract the person if they are upset.
There are different medicines available in Australia to slow the progression Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia in certain situations. The type of medicine depends on how advanced the disease is. A specialist such as neurologist, psychogeriatrician, geriatrician or psychiatrist will usually decide on the best type of medicine.
You might also need medicines to treat conditions like heart problems, diabetes or high blood pressure. This is especially important if the person has vascular dementia as these conditions can make the dementia symptoms worse.
Other types of medicines may be used to treat dementia symptoms like agitation, aggression, delusions and hallucinations, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances. These are called behaviourial and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).
BPSD may sometimes be treated with anti-psychotic medicines. These are usually only used for people with severe BPSD. For more information, talk to your doctor or visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.
The consent of a person with dementia is needed for any treatment. If the person can't communicate any more or can't understand, then families, friends or carers can make the decision. If the person has an advanced care directive, the carer must follow it.
Remember that the more medicines someone takes, the greater the risk they will have side effects. People with dementia are even more likely to have problems with their medicines.
If medicines are being considered, questions to ask the doctor include:
- What are the potential benefits of taking this medicine?
- How long before we notice an improvement?
- How will we know if it's not working?
- What are the known side effects?
- What should be done if there are side effects?
- What other medicines (prescription and over the counter) might interact with this medicine?
- How might this medicine affect other medical conditions?
- Is the drug available at a subsidised rate?
Expert advice - dementia treatments
Living with dementia can be difficult, but there are ways to slow the progression and manage symptoms. Watch the video below and learn about the treatment options for dementia.
A person with dementia will need more care as time goes by. It's a good idea to establish one person to coordinate care early on. They could be a health professional, a social worker or a relative or friend.
It is also a good idea to have that person develop a care plan. This plan is a way of making sure the right care and treatment is offered at the right time.
It is wise to plan early for the future.
A person with dementia can arrange for someone they trust to manage their affairs through a power of attorney.
They can also draw up an advanced care directive which sets out what treatment they prefer in case they are unable to give consent to treatment at a later stage.
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Last reviewed: October 2018