Is dementia treatable?
First, it’s important to understand the difference in the terms treatable, reversible, and curable. All or almost all forms of dementia are treatable, in that medication and supportive measures are available to help manage symptoms in patients with dementia. However, most types of dementia remain incurable or irreversible and treatment results in only modest benefits.
Some dementias disorders, however, may be successfully treated, with patient returning to normal after treatment. These dementias are ones caused by:
- Side effects of medications or illicit drugs; alcohol
- Tumors that can be removed
- Subdural hematoma, a buildup of blood beneath the outer covering of the brain that is caused by a head injury
- Normal pressure hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebral spinal fluid in the brain
- Metabolic disorders, such as a vitamin B12 deficiency
- Hypothyroidism, a condition that results from low levels of thyroid hormones
- Hypoglycemia, a condition that results from low blood sugar
Dementias that are not reversible, but may still be at least partially responsive to medications currently available for memory loss or behavior-based problems include:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Multi-infarct (vascular) dementia
- Dementias associated with Parkinson's disease and similar disorders
- AIDS dementia complex
- Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
What medications are available to treat dementia?
Drugs approved for the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, are discussed below. These drugs are also used to treat people with some of the other forms of dementia.
- cholinesterase inhibitors (donepezil [Aricept®], rivastigmine [Exelon®], and galantamine [Razadyne®])
- NMDA receptor antagonist memantine [Namenda®]
These two classes of drugs affect different chemical processes in the brain. Both classes have been shown to provide some benefit in improving or stabilizing memory function in some patients. Although none of these drugs appear to stop the progression of the underlying disease, they may slow it down.
If other medical conditions are causing dementia or co-exist with dementia, the appropriate drugs used to treat those specific conditions are prescribed.