Your Local Pharmacist is

Jay Koovarjee

 92 Pitt St
Sydney NSW 2000
ph: (02) 9221 0091
fax: (02) 8880-8326

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:: In Brief


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:: Alzheimer's & Dementia

Healthy Ageing - Alzheimers-Dementia
  Healthy Ageing
  Alzheimers & Dementia

Dementia is a brain disorder that seriously affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia among people over 65. It involves the parts of the brain that controls thought, memory, and language. The causes of Alzheimer's disease are still not completely understood.


Signs & Symptoms:

Alzheimers's disease begins slowly and insidiously. The first sign is mild forgetfulness – the person has trouble remembering recent events, activities, or the names of familiar people or things.

Of course, elderly people are inclined to be forgetful occasionally, as are people who are depressed or malnourished, but in someone with Alzheimer's the memory loss becomes increasingly troublesome.

As the disease progresses, they get more and more confused. They may lose the ability to manage their own finances or take their medications. Cooking or writing a letter, once second nature, becomes a major task. They may do meaningless things (often things that are socially embarrassing to friends and family).

In conversation they tend to repeat themselves. They may become anxious or aggressive, or wander away from home. Finally they lose the ability to dress themselves, bathe or toilet themselves, and finally to talk, to eat, and to perform bodily functions. In the end stages of the illness, people with Alzheimer's need 24-hour care.

How quickly these changes happen can vary from person to person. The average life expectancy for someone with Alzheimer's disease is generally given as five to 10 years from the time they are diagnosed. Some studies suggest it is actually much shorter, especially if people with the most severe cases (who tend to die sooner) are included in the study (often they are not).


There is no definitive treatment for Alzheimer's disease at present, but some drugs improve the symptoms or stall their progression.

They include tacrine, donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine. They are available in Australia and are on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule.

These drugs act by boosting the levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain (they belong to a group of drugs known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors). They improve Alzheimer's symptoms for a limited period – on average, about nine months – but they have no effect on the progress of the underlying disease. And their effect is variable – they work on some people but not on others.

Anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs are sometimes used to help manage the anxiety and depression that tend to arise in the later stages of the illness.


At the moment, there is no cure for Alzheimer's Disease. For some people in the early or middle stages of Alzheimer's Disease, certain medications may alleviate some cognitive symptoms or keep the symptoms from getting worse for a limited time. Other medications may help control behavioural symptoms such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety and depression.

 So the main focus in treatment is on supporting the person with the condition to remain independent for as long as possible.

This includes providing emotional support, counselling, and educational programs – not just for the patient but also for their family, as the condition can be very stressful for close family members. Carers are often elderly and may have health problems themselves. There are also legal issues, such as power of attorney, to be addressed.

Home nursing, respite care, meals on wheels, and other community support programs will help. In the final stages of the disease, however, the patient will need full-time nursing care. Studies suggest that about two-thirds of the beds in Australian nursing homes are occupied by people with dementia.

Other treatments that have been suggested for Alzheimer's include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Research has shown that people who have been taking them for a long time – at least two years – have lower rates of Alzheimer's than people who have never taken anti-inflammatories.
  • Oestrogen. Women on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which contains the sex hormone oestrogen, have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
  • Vitamin E. There is epidemiological evidence from large population studies suggesting that people who have higher intakes or levels of Vitamin E (and to a lesser extent, Vitamin C) have less likelihood of developing Alzheimer's.
  • Ginkgo biloba. There is some evidence that the herbal remedy gingko may slow the progress of Alzheimer's, although there is a lack of good-quality, long-term trials.
  • Drugs that bind copper and zinc. The amyloid protein that occurs in the brains of people with Alzheimer's also contains copper and zinc, tightly bound within its structure. Very early research suggests that drugs that chelate copper and zinc may work on the amyloid. These drugs, including an old drug for diarrhoea, may hold future potential for Alzheimer's treatment.

More Information:

Alzheimer's Australia - 

Ask Your Pharmacist about:

  • advice on signs & symptoms of Alzheimers
  • medication for Alzheimers 

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