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How Effective is Therapy for Alzheimer's?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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The effectiveness of therapy for Alzheimer’s varies widely based on the individual patient. When caught early, treatments may extend the mental and emotional health of patients by several years. More progressed cases may not benefit nearly as much. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and therapies are used only to treat symptoms.

Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia in which the brain progressively loses neurons. This causes memory loss, forgetfulness, foggy thinking, and behavioral changes. Patients often eventually forget who they are, who loved ones are, and how to do simple tasks. Eventually the body shuts down because the signals sent from the brain to other organ systems are no longer effectively transmitted. Death is the final outcome.

When considered on a long-term basis, there is no effective therapy for Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, all patients with the condition lose cognitive function and most of them die of the disease. There is no cure and there are no treatments able to slow down the rate at which cognitive decline takes place, although there are emerging drugs which may be able to do so in the near future.

Therapy for Alzheimer’s may be of some benefit for many patients, however, because when caught in its earliest stages, symptoms may be successfully treated for a length of time. This can greatly enhance a patient’s quality of life, give them more years of living without assistance, and give family members longer periods of time to spend with their loved one before mental and behavioral problems begin to set in.

There are two main types of treatment. The first type of therapy for Alzheimer’s treats the cognitive issues, and help patients hold on to their ability to function with everyday tasks like remembering how to do things and understanding basic instructions. The second treats emotional and behavioral symptoms like aggression and sadness. Both of these treatments work together to help the patient keep a sense of normalcy for as long as possible.

The effectiveness of these therapies varies greatly. Some patients may decline very slowly and only minor symptoms will become noticeable over the course of many years. Others lose function more rapidly. The earlier treatment is begun, the better the overall outcome for most patients. Health in all other areas of the body may also play a role in how effective treatments can be. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise may help to prolong health, although this can also vary from patient to patient.

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