NYACK, N.Y. -- Upon receiving an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, many people assume treatment options are simply unavailable. However, according to Dr. Andrew Erian, a neurologist at Highland Medical P.C. Rockland Neurological Associates in West Nyack, there are several ways to minimize the disorder's debilitating side effects and slow the disease's progression.
“There are things we can do to slow down the disease and improve a patient's symptoms,” said Erian.
Mild to moderate Alzheimer’s can often be treated with medications called cholinesterase inhibitors. These drugs may help delay or prevent symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time, and may help control some behavioral symptoms. For moderate to severe Alzheimer’s, doctors may prescribe a medication called Namenda (memantine), which delays progression of some of the symptoms, and may allow patients to maintain certain daily functions a little longer than they would have without medication.
Those with Alzheimer’s may also exhibit symptoms such as sleeplessness, wandering, agitation, anxiety and depression as the disease progresses. To treat these effects, doctors can prescribe antidepressants, sleep aids or anti-anxiety drugs to lessen these symptoms.
Erian also recommends caregivers consider making modifications to their home to decrease safety risks and increase patients' independence. “Reducing the risks of falls is very important,” he said. “Cooking is another area where safety can become an issue for a person with Alzheimer’s.”
In general, he recommends disabling automatic locks on storm/screen doors so patients don't get locked out, as well as hiding an extra set of keys outside in case caregivers are mistakenly locked out of the home.
Indoors, the kitchen presents many potential problems for those with Alzheimer's. Locking household kitchen appliances that might present a danger, storing sharp kitchen tools in locked cabinets and locking medications are all simple ways to prevent accidents from happening. Those with the disease should also not be driving, Erian cautioned. If necessary, hiding a patient's car keys can prevent them from getting on the road and endangering themselves and other drivers.
Patients aren't the only ones who require assistance during an Alzheimer's diagnosis; caregivers will need more and more help and support as the disease eventually progresses. “I tell my patients and their families not to give up,” said Erian. “It’s important to ask for help. This is not an easy disease to deal with, and you shouldn’t do it alone.”
For more information on how to care for those with the disease, seek support and plan for the future, contact the Alzheimer’s Association.