Treatment for Alzheimer’s: An Overview for Healthcare Workers

Treatment for Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is a disorder of the brain impacting memory, thinking, and the ability to complete routine tasks. The disease is sometimes confused with other age-related changes like dementia, but they are not the same. Dementia is a broad term relating to the age-related loss of memory and cognition, while Alzheimer’s is a specific disease process commonly causing dementia.

A 2022 special report published by the Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s in the United States. While the number of patients newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seems to be declining, the total number is still on the rise. That’s not surprising given the increasing number of adults aged 65 and older.

The population as a whole is aging, making it more likely that healthcare professionals will frequently encounter patients with Alzheimer’s disease in their practice. Healthcare professionals need to be equipped with knowledge of risk factors, common presentations, and treatment for Alzheimer’s.

The Fundamentals of Alzheimer’s disease for healthcare providers designed by #1 Premiere Continuing Education equips healthcare workers with a strong foundation in Alzheimer’s disease concepts and management across all roles and clinical specialties. Having a basic understanding of the disease is essential to the healthcare workforce supporting optimal patient outcomes.

Alzheimer’s: What to Know

Alzheimer’s disease results from a series of complex changes in the brain that cause cell damage and degeneration of brain tissue. As the disease process progresses, even the most basic of functions become challenging and ultimately impossible for some.

Alzheimer’s disease can present with a timeline unique to the individual. While symptoms commonly present after the age of 65, some people who experience early-onset Alzheimer’s disease can present with symptoms as early as age 30. Regardless of when symptoms begin, the disease is progressive and will worsen over time.

The Alzheimer’s Association identified 10 signs and symptoms to be aware of as significant to patients who may need consideration for the treatment of Alzheimer’s.

  • Memory loss that is significant enough to disrupt one’s daily routine.
  • Difficulty in making a plan or solving a problem.
  • Challenges in completing tasks that are considered familiar.
  • Confusion related to time or where they are.
  • Difficulty interpreting images or spatial relationships.
  • Difficulty with vocabulary or fluid conversation.
  • MIsplacing items.
  • Changes in judgment. 
  • Withdrawal from routine activities.
  • Changes in personality.

Options for Treatment for Alzheimer’s

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are treatments. Familiarizing yourself with both pharmacological and non-pharmacological therapies described in introductory online courses means you have the potential to effectively slow the progression of the disease in support of optimal quality of life.

Medication

Medications approved for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease can be broken into two main types. Drugs that work on slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, and others that aim at treating the symptoms. 

Aducanumab

Aducanumab is one option for potentially limiting the worsening of Alzheimer’s disease. Aducanumab works by removing the protein fragments that are thought to contribute to the formation of plaques disrupting the communication between cells in the brain. 

While data on the effectiveness of this medication is limited, clinical trials involving Alzheimer’s patients with mild cognitive impairment are positive.

Galantamine, rivastigmine, and donepezil

These are medications commonly prescribed to reduce the symptoms associated with moderate Alzheimer’s disease. 

Although the mechanism is not well understood, cholinesterase inhibitors have been shown to potentially reduce some behavioral and cognitive symptoms.  They do this by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain.

Cognitive Therapies

There are also non-medication therapies for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease that utilize methods in memory training, stimulation through mental and social activities, and physical exercise. Such cognitive therapies are treatments that address a patient’s mental abilities. They can take a variety of forms and can be easily tailored to the individual’s treatment plan.

For example, exercises in math, solving puzzles, and word problems are meaningful ways to work through thinking, remembering, and challenges in perception. Cognitive treatments can also be found effective through the inclusion of exercises in practicing activities supporting their daily routine. 

Exercises in something as common as shopping at the grocery store can offer an opportunity to practice and reinforce activities that may successfully support a patient’s self-perception through accomplishment and improved quality of life.

Social and Physical Activities

A robust social life can have positive effects across the spectrum of age in a lot of ways. As people age, there is evidence supporting the benefits of strong social relationships on mental health and cognition.

Although modest, when talking about age-related cognitive changes, frequent interaction with friends and socialization have shown some benefits in decreasing the risk of degenerative cognitive diseases. The thought is that more social interactions can exercise the brain’s process for memory and language. 

Even more impressive are the benefits of physical activity on the preservation of cognitive function. Across multiple studies, regular physical activity has been associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease and an overall delay in neurodegenerative processes.

The best part is, this is also a great chance to have some fun. Social and physical activities represent opportunities to be creative in the treatment of Alzheimer’s as well as offer benefits across other body systems.

Stay Current on Treatment for Alzheimer’s

Healthcare has evolved to offer incredible resources in the management of many health challenges that have us living well into our golden years. The population as a whole is aging which means the recognition and management of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease are becoming essential.

Being comfortable with the fundamental concepts of Alzheimer’s disease is more important than ever. Knowing the basic concepts of Alzheimer’s and the signs and symptoms to be on the watch for, as well as the different methods used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, are imperative for anyone working in health care.

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