Latest Treatments for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
Right now, there are no known treatments that cure Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. But there are ways to treat the symptoms and, for some people, to slow the progression of the illness. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor—early and frequently. Sometimes, especially when Alzheimer’s disease is concerned, family members are under the impression that there’s nothing anybody can do about the condition. But the fact is that it’s important to be under the frequent care of a doctor to address the symptoms whenever possible, to maintain independence and delay expensive nursing home care and to improve the quality of life.
Common treatments for Alzheimer’s
The most common type of medication for Alzheimer’s is a class of drugs called
cholinesterase inhibitors. Alzheimer’s destroys or damages a chemical that affects the way brain cells connect and communicate with each other. Cholinesterase inhibitors work to block the effect of this destruction and to improve memory, thinking and judgment. In truth, the improvement is generally modest. And there can be side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and increased bowel movement frequency. People who take cholinesterase inhibitors need to be cared for and monitored by a doctor who has experience with Alzheimer’s disease.
Vitamin E: Some researchers believe that vitamin E provides protection against cell damage that happens naturally as we age. People considering taking vitamin E should talk with their doctors first.
Treatment for agitation: People with Alzheimer’s can become agitated fairly easily. Changes in routine, requests to change clothes or take a bath, and other simple things can be upsetting to them. Frequently, identifying the cause of the agitation and addressing it through behavioral intervention, such as involvement in day care and other programs, is likely to provide the most success. Anti-psychotic medications can sometimes treat agitation, but these should be used only after other methods have not helped.
Parkinson’s disease treatments
In order for muscles to move smoothly and efficiently, you need a chemical in the brain known as dopamine. Gradual loss of dopamine is the hallmark of Parkinson’s. It causes trembling, stiffness, slowness of movement and impaired balance.
Since there’s not yet a cure, treatment for Parkinson’s focuses on easing the symptoms. Levodopa is currently the most common drug for Parkinson’s disease. It helps nerve cells in the brain make dopamine, and is especially effective at relieving the stiffness and slowness that are common in Parkinson’s. Levodopa typically helps only slightly with tremors, and it usually has no beneficial effect on problems with balance.
Levodopa can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, involuntary movements and restlessness. Over time, its effectiveness can decrease. Frequently, combining levodopa with other medications, such as tolcapone and carbidopa can extend the effectiveness and decrease the side effects.
Surgery is sometimes helpful for patients who don’t respond to drug treatment. One surgical procedure attempts to destroy the area of the brain that produces tremors. Another interrupts the pathways in the brain that can cause tremors, rigidity and slow movement. These types of surgeries are under further investigation to determine their long-term effectiveness.
Finding quality of life
If you or someone you care for has a chronic, debilitating disease, it’s important to do everything you can to address feelings of isolation, loss of ability to earn a living, inability to carry out simple activities of daily living, etc. Join support groups. Consult with volunteer organizations. Interaction with professionals and with people who have “been there” will help you feel more plugged in to ways of making life as good as it can be for everyone involved.
The Alzheimer’s Association; The National Institutes of Neurological Disease (NIH); The New York Times, 11 October, 2002.