How new dementia treatments could impact day-to-day tasks.
Treatments available to people in the UK with dementia today are called symptomatic treatments. These treatments can stabilise or slightly improve a person’s symptoms, often their thinking and memory problems. This relief with symptoms can help them to maintain their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. This can make a big difference to someone’s quality of life but, unfortunately, these medicines don’t work for everybody. They also don’t continue to work effectively when someone’s dementia becomes more severe. As these treatments can’t slow or stop the underlying damage getting from worse in the brain, their beneficial effects usually only last for around a year or two.
Disease-modifying treatments being developed and tested today are designed to slow or stop the progression of a disease that causes dementia. The immediate effect of a disease-modifying treatment may not be any better than those offered by existing symptomatic treatments, but they are likely to have longer-lasting effects. This means it would improve a person’s ability to function independently for longer and may stop symptoms from getting worse.
Explanation of terms
What treatments are currently available?
Currently, people living with certain types of dementia have access to symptomatic treatments. These medications can stabilise or slightly improve a person’s symptoms for some time and help them to maintain their ability to carry out some daily activities.
Symptomatic treatments do not work the same way for everybody though. Some people may only feel a benefit for a short amount of time while others can find the treatments do not help them at all.
Unfortunately, symptomatic treatments cannot stop the diseases that cause dementia from progressing, and people will continue to get worse over time. That is why ongoing research to help us develop life-changing disease-modifying treatments for dementia are so important.
What if people could access new disease-modifying Alzheimer’s treatment?
If people could access new disease-modifying treatments, then the typical pattern of decline experienced by those living with dementia could be changed. It could improve a person’s chances of living independently for longer, improving their quality of life and that of their loved ones too.
The immediate effect of a disease-modifying treatment may not be better than those offered by existing symptomatic treatments, but they are likely to have longer-lasting effects. This means it would improve a person’s ability to function independently for longer and may even stop symptoms from getting worse.
When should new treatments be given?
Research shows that new treatments will have the most beneficial long-term effect if given to people in the very early stages of dementia. For example, for those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
But disease-modifying treatments may also benefit people with very mild dementia too. People living with mild symptoms of dementia are still able to live well and get on with daily activities with some support.
Currently a doctor can prescribe treatments only once someone has a dementia diagnosis, and a person will seek a diagnosis when noticeable symptoms start to affect everyday life.
However, the diseases that cause dementia often start 15-20 years before a person has symptoms. Often this means when people receive treatments following a diagnosis they are already living with moderate to severe dementia, when current and future treatments are likely to be less effective.
That’s why Alzheimer’s Research UK are looking detect diseases like Alzheimer’s years before the symptoms of dementia start.
This information was updated in June 2021 and is due for review in June 2023. It does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.