Is there a cure for dementia?
It’s important to remember that ‘dementia’ is a term that covers a range of similar conditions characterised by mental decline. Most, like Alzheimer’s disease, don’t currently have a cure.
Researchers are hopeful that a cure for Alzheimer’s will be found in time, and there have been some promising clinical trials already. Experts say there could be a cure within five years.
In the meantime, there are treatments that can help improve the symptoms of the disease. Getting the right care in the right setting can make a big difference too.
Treatable Forms of Dementia
Sometimes dementia symptoms are caused by treatable conditions. In these cases, treating the underlying cause may help restore cognitive function.
If pressure on the brain or a brain tumour is the cause, there might be the possibility of treating it surgically. If vitamin B12 deficiency is to blame, dietary changes or taking supplements may help. Sufferers of hypothyroidism may find that prescribed hormones or other treatments work for them.
Every case is different, so it’s important to get professional advice.
Dementia symptoms can also be a side-effect of some drugs, in which case, changing the drugs might help. Obviously, this would need to be done in consultation with your GP.
Possible Future Cures for Dementia
Some types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, are linked to plaques. These are protein deposits that build up between nerve cells in the brain and affect their function. There are medicines on the horizon that might help remove these plaque deposits and stop the disease in its tracks.
Another possible treatment is gene therapy, which could introduce a specific gene into the brain and make the build-up of plaques more difficult. It may even be possible to use stem cells to create new brain cells one day.
The Importance of a Memory Box
One thing that can be really useful for people with dementia is for family members to create a ‘Memory Box’. These boxes include items that bring back fond memories of important moments in the person’s life. For care and nursing homes offering a person-centred approach, these boxes also enable staff to understand their residents better and make it easier to strike up a conversation with them.
A Memory Box can be any type, size or material, and the contents should consist of objects with different shapes, textures or even smells. The objects should be linked with happy memories, although not hazardous or valuable. Some ideas would be:
- Soft toys and teddies
- Books and magazines
- Pictures or a photo album
- Certificates or medals
- Baby clothes of children or grandchildren
- Hobby rewards or creations
- Favourite perfume or partner’s perfume
Of course, it doesn’t have to be one memory box – they can be separated by theme. Maybe souvenirs, photos or fridge magnets from a holiday in one box, and a video of their first dance, gifts or a bow tie from their wedding day in another. These boxes can be created on behalf of your loved one or with them. It’s a lovely way to learn more and bond with family members or friends.
How is dementia treated?
How dementia is treated depends on the type of dementia the person has. Most types gradually get worse over time, with no cure, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any treatments available.
Sometimes, medicines may help stop symptoms getting worse – at least for a while. These treatments are often used in the early and middle stages, where they can help the sufferer stay independent.
It’s common for those living with dementia to develop depression, so your local GP may prescribe antidepressant medication.
According to www.nhs.uk, the following medications can be prescribed for those living with mild, moderate and severe dementia. However, it’s important to note that not everyone will benefit from these drugs. Everyone is different.
Aricept (donepezil) and other acetylcholinesterase inhibitors
Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (such as galantamine and rivastigmine) are used to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. They can also be used to treat dementia with Lewy bodies, and can be particularly effective at treating hallucinations.
Memantine is a medicine that works by blocking the effects of a chemical in the brain. It is used to treat severe Alzheimer’s disease.
Antipsychotics are a group of medicines designed to help people with certain mental illnesses. However, they are sometimes used to treat dementia sufferers, particularly if they are very anxious or exhibiting disruptive behaviour.
These drugs aren’t perfect though and have to be used with care as they sometimes cause complications for people with dementia.
The best treatment for dementia is love and support from family, friends and healthcare professionals. A positive attitude can help loved ones feel uplifted and remain socially active can help stimulate brain function.
Can I reduce the risk of getting dementia?
While it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk of developing dementia, there are some factors that are known to contribute to it. Maintaining a clean and healthy lifestyle may reduce your likelihood of getting dementia in later life.
By keeping fit, not smoking, eating a balanced diet and attending regular mid-life check-ups at your GP to keep your health in check, you could lower the risk of dementia significantly.
Keeping Socially and Mentally Active
It’s also important that people keep mentally stimulated by having a good social network: visit people or have them visit you, join a club or volunteer for a charity. These are all good ways to keep socially active. Taking up new hobbies or learning new things can also help. It’s never too late to start playing an instrument or learning a language.
By keeping your mind active you are likely to reduce your risk of dementia in later life.
However, no one can stop the ageing process, the biggest risk factor of them all for dementia.
Can pets help with dementia?
It may not be the first thing you think of, but taking your dog or another pet when visiting a loved one with dementia can be a big help in brightening their day. Pets play a key part in enriching lives on an emotional level, by helping reduce stress levels and aid in mental stimulation.
It’s the unconditional love a pet can introduce that no human can compete with which can help evoke a positive response.
The benefits of having a pet around someone living with dementia range from promoting companionship, and reducing anxiety and agitation, to helping to improve interactions and socialisation with others.
The power of touch is important to individuals living with dementia, and dogs and cats in particular help provide sensory stimulation by just being around to stroke or for comfort.
We often invite the local cat rescue into our nursing homes to allow residents to spend time with four-legged felines. This helps trigger pleasant memories and enables the residents to spend some time ‘in the moment’ with the cats.
While there are many benefits to having pets around, it’s also important that before any pets are introduced to anyone living with dementia, the environment is assessed to avoid problems or a negative response.