Medication as treatment

Symptom management

There is no ‘magical pill’ that can help manage all the symptoms – it may require trial and error at times.

The use of medication for individuals with dementia is controversial. The risks and potential benefits of using a medication need to be taken into consideration in making the choice about when to use a medication.

Medications are often used right away when there is an imminent risk of physical harm to the person with dementia or others due to violent or aggressive behaviours.

There is a wide range of medication available to treat behavioural and psychological symtoms of dementia (BPSD), but there is no ‘magical pill’ that can help manage all the symptoms. It may require trial and error at times. Some medications may or may not work – and the medications used in treating BPSD take time to work. Each case is unique. Patience is required.

When deciding to use medication, the physician should meet with the family and patient to explain, in detail and in plain language, the potential risks of a proposed medication.

The goal of any treatment is to improve quality of life and a person’s ability to function.

There are two main classes of medication used to treat behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia:

Other medications used to help improve the ‘thinking’ aspect of dementia are called Cholinesterase inhibitors (cognitive enhancers). The purpose of these drugs is to help the person think more clearly or be more alert which may help them communication their needs and decrease responsive behaviours.

Antidepressants are used for problems related to the frontal lobe area of the brain and disinhibition – the person who is impulsive. They may also be used for patients who have sadness or depression associated with dementia.

Anticonvulsants help regulate neurochemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain which can help with distressing behaviours.