It is estimated that 10% of Australians over the age of 65 have dementia. This rate increases to 31% for people aged over 85 years. However, it is important to note that dementia is not exclusively found in the elderly. Approximately 25,100 Australians are living with younger onset dementia. This month is Dementia Awareness Month which aims to educate and support people affected by this debilitating syndrome.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and is responsible for up to 70% of dementia diagnoses. While there is no known cure, treatment may help patients to maintain their quality of life for longer. Cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine are often used to treat cognitive impairment in this patient group. Cholinesterase inhibitors include donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine. These medications may maintain cognitive test scores at or above baseline for up to 12 months. Alertness and functional ability may also be improved. Memantine, an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist, is another option. Memantine has demonstrated improvements in cognitive and functional ability over a six-month trial period.
Pharmacological treatment often provides only modest benefit for patients with dementia. Therefore, it is important that non-pharmacological therapy is prioritised. Appropriate interventions may include environmental modifications, memory training, and cognitive behavioural therapy.
For assistance and support, patients and their carers are encouraged to contact their state branch of Alzheimer’s Australia.
- Australian Government. Dementia. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare; 2016.
- Psychotropic Expert Group. Dementia [revised October 2015]. In: eTG complete [Internet]. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2016.
- Reisberg B, Doody R, Stöffler A, Schmitt F, Ferris S, Jörg Möbius H. Memantine in moderate-to-severe alzheimer’s disease. N Eng J Med. 2003; 348: 1333-41.