Care & Treatment
Older adults who have dementia often have other health problems. This complicates their care.
Caring for a person with dementia who has other health problems can be difficult since treatment for one problem can make another worse. Some drugs can interact with others in harmful ways. Healthcare providers will consider the benefits and problems related to the treatments.
Healthcare professionals will treat, and keep track of any health problems that increase risks of dementia and make symptoms worse. They will:
- Treat other problems that can cause changes in mental abilities and mood.
- Watch for new medical problems.
- Watch for drug side effects, which can affect or mimic dementia.
- Help people caring for someone with dementia find out how to manage the person’s symptoms and find services.
- Prescribe drugs that can treat dementia. These drugs require the health care professional to check to see if the person benefits from them and if the drugs cause side effects. These drugs do not cure dementia.
To treat new dementia symptoms, such as agitation or aggression, healthcare providers may:
- Recommend new ways of caring for the person with dementia.
- Stop medications.
- Consider prescribing new medications as a last resort.
You may have heard about other treatments, such as vitamins and herbal medicines. Despite studies on their effects, these treatments generally are not safe and effective.
Drugs that affect your mood, such as antipsychotics, and antidepressants, may help control problem behaviors. However, these drugs increase the risk of stroke and death. They are often not effective for older adults.
Given the problems with these drugs, other treatments should be tried first. Antipsychotic drugs should be tried only in cases in which non-drug approaches haven’t worked and there is severe distress or immediate risk of harm to someone with dementia or others.
People with dementia may not be able to say they are in pain or to ask for drugs that treat pain. Common signs of their pain include:
- Facial expressions, including frowns, rapid blinking, or other expressions.
- Making sounds, including sighing, groaning, grunting, or being verbally aggressive.
- Body movements, including a tense body; fidgeting, pacing, or rocking; or changes in movement.
- Changes in emotions, including aggression, withdrawal, disruptive behavior, crying, confusion, or delirium.
- Changing routines, such as refusing food, changing sleep patterns, or wandering more.
Last Updated February 2023
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