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Is There a Cure for Alzheimer’s Disease?

When a person is first diagnosed with a medical condition, it’s normal to wonder if there’s a cure. For many ailments, modern medicine has developed effective treatments that result in a cure of sorts. For many other diseases, there is no cure, but instead, treatments. These treatments are symptom-specific. They are aimed at addressing symptoms as they arise and improving quality of life. The focus is on symptom management, not stopping disease progression. As not everyone with Alzheimer’s will experience the disease the same way, treatment plans might look different as well. Although there is no cure right now, finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and a treatment that stops disease progression is an active area of biomedical research.

Treatments

There are a variety of treatments available for Alzheimer’s disease, with both drug and non-drug options. Because of the complexity of the disease, one drug or one therapy is not likely to be enough to address multiple symptoms.1 These treatments help address memory and cognition issues, behavioral symptoms, and sleep issues. The type of treatment and intensity of treatment can vary over the course of the disease, based on a patient’s specific symptoms and needs – and one’s doctor can work with patients and their caregivers to figure out what would best suit specific needs and lifestyles, and what is most bothersome to a patient. The goal is to alleviate symptoms and promote quality of life. Lifestyle or environment changes are a big part of helping to treat Alzheimer’s and helping to make everyday life and functioning a little easier for people with Alzheimer’s disease.1

There are also alternative and complementary treatments, such as herbal remedies, supplements, and foods that are said to be medicinal for Alzheimer’s disease. Talk with the doctor before a patient uses any of these treatments, even if they claim to be natural. Many of these herbal remedies have also been shown not to be effective and are an unnecessary cost. These herbs or supplements can interfere with medications or vitamins a patient takes, as well as medical treatments being done, and can potentially cause dangerous and even fatal side effects.

The main goals of Alzheimer’s disease treatments are: to preserve independent functioning and maximize functioning; maintain quality of life; help cognition, mood, and behavior; provide a safe environment; and when possible, encourage social engagement.2 This requires regular evaluation of functioning and evaluation to see if treatments are working as the disease progresses. If a treatment is not as effective as it once was, the treatment needs to change.

Sometimes participation in a clinical trial is mentioned, depending on inclusion criteria and the health of the patient. Clinical trials are important in scientific research because they allow researchers to see if a treatment is effective or not.3 They aren’t for everyone, and often take a considerable period of time to translate to actual treatment. If a patient or their family is interested in finding out more about clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease, talk with the doctor about whether the person with Alzheimer’s disease is a candidate for participation. Clinical trials can also be found on ClinicalTrials.gov.

It can be hard to live with a disease with no known cure. Talk with the doctor about all of the different ways that Alzheimer’s disease is treated, what options are available at each stage, and what might be best for the patient at each juncture or for different symptoms. If there are questions or concerns about treatments or how symptoms will be managed, get answers from the healthcare team so that everyone’s mind can be put at ease and the patient’s wishes become known, if possible.

Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: June 2019
  1. National Institute on Aging. How is Alzheimer’s Disease Treated? 2018. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-alzheimers-disease-treated Accessed April 8, 2019.
  2. Alzheimer’s Association. Management. 2019. https://www.alz.org/professionals/healthcare-professionals/management Accessed April 8, 2019.
  3. National Institute on Aging. What Are Clinical Trials and Studies? 2017. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-are-clinical-trials-and-studies Accessed April 8, 2019.