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Managing the Symptoms of Dementia

Dementia is the name for a group of brain conditions that make it harder to remember, reason, and communicate. These conditions can make it hard for the person to deal with tasks in daily life without help.

The symptoms of dementia can vary depending on the type and cause of the dementia. People with mild symptoms can still do daily tasks on their own. Moderate symptoms make it hard to function without help. Symptoms often get worse over time. People with dementia will need help with many activities of daily living.

Mild symptoms can include:

  • Changes in mood and personality

  • Mild memory loss and confusion

  • Asking the same questions over and over

  • Getting lost in familiar places

  • Losing objects in odd places

  • Not being able to follow directions

  • Poor judgment

  • Trouble finding the right words during a conversation

  • Trouble making plans

Moderate to severe symptoms can include:

  • Worsening memory loss

  • Getting very confused about time, people, and places

  • Poor personal care, such as eating poorly or not bathing

  • Trouble recognizing family and friends

  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)

  • Believing things that aren’t true (delusions)

  • Fear of things that aren’t a real threat (paranoia)

  • Reckless behavior

  • Trouble coping with new situations or learning new things

  • Trouble doing tasks that have multiple steps, such as getting dressed

How Dementia Is Managed

Most kinds of dementia can’t be cured. But the symptoms of dementia can be managed in many ways, such as: 

  • Managing the environment. A person with dementia will feel better in a calm place. It’s also important to make the person’s home safe. See Caring for Dementia: Safety Checklists for Caregivers for more details.

  • Managing problem behaviors. A person with dementia will often have certain behaviors such as restlessness, aggression, or wandering. These can make caregiving a challenge. You may be able to find the cause of behavior and learn ways to manage it. This may include sticking to routines, keeping noise low, and working with his or her health care provider to address the underlying cause of the behaviors.  

  • Keeping your loved one active and healthy. It’s important for a person with dementia to keep his or her mind and body healthy. It’s good for the person to spend social time with friends and family. The person should keep up with his or her activities and hobbies, and get exercise, such as walking. Eating healthy foods, taking medicines as needed, and getting flu shots and other vaccines are important.

  • Treating common problems. Your loved one may have anxiety or depression. These can be treated with counseling and medicines. Another common problem is trouble sleeping (insomnia). This can be treated by avoiding caffeine and alcohol late in the day. Daytime exercise also may help.  Many over-the-counter drugs can worsen dementia. Always check with a health care provider (doctor, pharmacist, or nurse) before starting a new medication.

Medications to Treat Dementia Symptoms

In some cases, medicine can be used to help lessen some of the symptoms of dementia. This can make a person with dementia more comfortable. It can also make it easier for the person’s caregivers to take care of him or her.

Some medicines may help improve memory, thinking, and language skills. Some may help with behavior problems such as aggression. They can also lessen hallucinations and delusions. These medicines can work for some but not all people, and they may help for only a limited time.

Medications include:

  • Cholinesterase inhibitors called donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine

  • The NMDA receptor blocker called memantine

These medicines have risks and side effects. In some cases, behavior problems can be caused by medicine side effects. Antipsychotic medications are related to a higher risk of death and stroke when used in people with dementia. Talk with the person’s health care provider about the risks and benefits of medicines.

Considering a Clinical Trial

A clinical trial is a type of research study in which a new treatment is tested. Researchers look for volunteers to try the new treatment. They record the effects of the treatment. In some cases, you have to qualify for a clinical trial. Researchers may be looking for volunteers with certain symptoms, or with dementia from one type or cause. There is no promise that a clinical trial will help a person’s disease. You can find out more about clinical trials at www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 9/22/2014
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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