Therapy Options for People With Alzheimer's Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024 | Last updated: March 2024

Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with multiple components, so it makes sense that the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is also multi-faceted. There is no cure for the disease, and there are no treatments that will completely get rid of symptoms. There are some therapies and medicines that may help with some cognitive and behavioral symptoms.1

The goal of treatments for people with Alzhemeimer's include:1

Treatment often depends on the stage of Alzheimer’s and the accompanying symptoms. Since symptoms can change over time, treatment plans may shift or remain a work in progress. This is why it’s helpful for people with Alzheimer’s disease to have attuned caregivers and see their doctor regularly for check-ups.

While treatment can include medicines for memory, behavior, or mood, non-drug therapy options can improve function and quality of life.

Cognitive therapy

Cognitive therapy for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia focuses on addressing cognitive issues through exercises that target specific cognitive functions. This can include things like reality orientation therapy, skills training, and memory training.2,3

Cognitive therapies use guided practice on standardized tasks. The tasks may vary based on how much progress the person with Alzheimer's makes, but the goal is to also simply maintain functioning in an area.3

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) includes behavioral techniques to help treat mood disorders like depression and anxiety, along with cognitive restructuring or changing negative thoughts and beliefs to more positive ones. Because CBT requires a certain amount of introspection and reflection, it is most helpful in the earlier stages of Alzheimer’s disease.4

CBT can also involve couples therapy, which may be especially helpful for the partner of the person with Alzheimer’s disease.4

Occupational therapy

At its most basic, occupational therapy (OT) helps people do things they want and need to do by adapting their everyday activities. For people with Alzheimer's disease, this means adjusting their environment and figuring out how they can remain engaged, stay safe, and maintain quality of life. Examples include:5

  • Creating large signs with directions on how to heat up a meal
  • Removing access to dangerous things like sharp objects
  • Removing fall risks
  • Encouraging remembering long-term memories through pictures

OT can be helpful at every stage of Alzheimer’s disease for both patients and caregivers, since the physical, mental, and emotional needs change as the disease progresses.

Music and art therapy

Research shows that music and art therapy have positive effects on cognition and neuropsychiatric syndromes. These therapies may improve skills like executive functioning and global cognition.6,7

There are various kinds of music therapy, including simply listening to music, singing along, and using multisensory stimulation with music. Music therapy should be done with a trained and certified music therapist so they can tailor the therapy to the specific needs of each person.6

Art therapy uses various art forms and materials to engage in the creative process as a way to explore feelings, increase self-esteem, and develop social skills. Goals of art therapy include improving physical functioning and well-being.7

Group exercise programs

Research shows that exercise can help delay cognitive decline in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise may also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise helps boost blood flow to the brain and can help reduce high blood pressure and high cholesterol, both of which are risk factors for dementia.8,9

A group exercise setting can also provide socialization and reduce isolation, which can help those with Alzheimer's stay connected to others. Before starting any physical activity, it’s best to check with the person’s doctor to make sure they’re cleared for exercise and to be aware of any possible risks or restrictions they might have.

If you or a loved one have Alzheimer's disease and are interested in therapy options, talk to your care team. They can help you pick the right therapy options for your specific needs.

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