Emerging treatments for dementia

We look at some new and emerging research into treatments for dementia.

For people living with dementia and their loved ones, any advances that could improve their quality of life and slow the progression of dementia are extremely important.

The Bupa Health Foundation is currently supporting some new research being undertaken by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) that looks into memory-enhancing medicines that could help make a difference.

In 2015 the Bupa Health Foundation, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, awarded a total of approximately $1.6 million to five research projects which aim to improve health and care outcomes for Australians.
One of these projects is using brain-imaging techniques to try and predict the response of people with dementia to cholinesterase inhibitors – also known as memory-enhancing medicines. This would allow more individualised care for people with dementia and potentially lead to improved outcomes.

What memory-enhancing medicines can (and can’t) do

These types of medicines help manage symptoms of dementia and slow the progression of the disease. They can help people living with dementia experience some improvement in maintaining their memory and thinking abilities for longer. The medicines are not a cure and the disease will still progress, but at a slower rate. This may mean that a person on these medications could maintain their current quality of life for longer.
The benefits of taking these medications can vary from person to person and they will not be suitable or effective for everyone – on average they only work in 20% of people for about two years. They can also have mild side effects, which can range from feeling dizzy, nauseated or having trouble sleeping.
older man waiting for cat scan

What the research is exploring

The research is using medical imaging (MRI) to help identify changes in the brain using biomarkers that measure chemical activity. The results improve the ability of doctors to predict if these medications will work on an individual living with dementia, and may help them decide whether to prescribe these drugs.

Effective and timely prescribing is likely to improve outcomes for the person and reduce the risk of adverse reactions.

Potential outcomes

If this research is effective, it will help people living with dementia receive more individualised treatment for optimal benefit.
This may mean they could retain their memory and many abilities for longer, which in turn often means better quality of life. It could help them remain independent for longer, and prevent additional stress in their relationships with family and friends.

How to find out more

In Australia, only specialists (a psycho-geriatrician or geriatrician) can prescribe these medications. For people living with dementia and their families, who could be considering whether these treatments could help, it’s best to discuss the options with the treating doctor and ask them for a referral to a specialist for review.
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