There is no cure for dementia. However, some medications have been found to relieve some symptoms for some people for a period of time.
People with Alzheimer's disease have been shown to have a shortage of a brain chemical called ‘acetylcholine.’ Medications called 'cholinesterase inhibitors' or ‘anti-cholinesterases' work by boosting existing supplies of this chemical. These drugs are called:
- Aricept® (manufactured by Pfizer)
- Donezil™ (manufactured by Mylan)
- Rivastigmine (Exelon®), or the Exelon patch, (manufactured by Novartis)
- Galantamine (Reminyl®).
These medications are mainly helpful for people with mild or moderate Alzheimer's disease.
Cholinesterase inhibitors can help slow the worsening of the symptoms of some kinds of dementia. They can improve cognitive ability, motivation and reduce apathy and symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations or delusions. For some people, these medications can have some effect on other behavioural changes in dementia, such as agitation and language ability. Side effects may include reduced appetite, nausea, indigestion, diarrhoea, fatigue, sleep disturbance, incontinence of urine and slowing of the heart rate.
Currently, monthly prescriptions costs for some cholinesterase inhibitors vary, so it is advisable to shop around. Your local Alzheimers New Zealand organisation will be able to help you figure out which pharmacy is the most inexpensive in your region.
Memantine (Ebixa®) is another drug available in New Zealand, which works in a different way to the other three by preventing excess entry of calcium ions into brain cells. Calcium damages brain cells and prevents them from receiving messages. Memantine is promoted as being effective in more advanced cases of Alzheimer's disease. Side effects may include hallucinations, confusion, dizziness, headaches and tiredness.
For more information about medication, please talk to your local Alzheimers organisation or your GP. You may be able to access a Disability Allowance through Work and Income to help you pay for any medication you need. This allowance is dependent on the weekly household income.
Contact Work and Income New Zealand on 0800 559 009 or visit their website to find out more information.
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