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For Alzheimer's Caregivers, Patience and Compassion Are Key
Date:2/23/2013

, who's also a physician at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, S.C.

But he said that's not the case and that there are plenty of safe ways to keep a connection. If someone with Alzheimer's used to like to swing dance, for instance, and you put on music and swing dance with them, it will often be calming, he said. Or, people with Alzheimer's usually enjoy looking at photos from the past, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

Mintzer said there are no treatments currently available to alter the course of the disease. However, two types of medications have been approved in the United States to help with memory loss: a group of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors (brand names include Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne and Cognex) and memantine (brand name Namenda). However, the Alzheimer's Association reports that these medications don't work for everyone and, on average, delay worsening of symptoms only by about six to 12 months.

Also, antidepressants, anti-anxiety and antipsychotic medications are used to ease some of the behavioral symptoms that can be a part of Alzheimer's disease, including agitation and anxiety. None of these medications have been specifically approved to treat Alzheimer's, however, so the Alzheimer's Association recommends discussing the risks and the benefits of any medication with a doctor.

Despite the limitations of existing medications, problem behaviors can sometimes be overcome with the right type of stimulation and care.

"We need to see ourselves as a therapeutic agent," said Mintzer. "Patients have needs. When social stimulation is diminished, patients tend to get agitated." He noted that sundowning -- increased confusion and agitation that some people with Alzheimer's experience later in the day -- "may occur because the amount of care goes down in the evening, whether at home or in a nursing home."

"Sit down and talk with them for five minutes every hour," Mintzer suggested. "Talk wit
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