Best Treatment for Aggressive Alzheimer's Patients May Not Involve Medication

While the research to find better medicines to treat dementia continues, a new study indicates that some of the best ways to treat the agitation dementia patients often exhibit may not involve medicine at all.

"The bottom line from our study is that non-medication based therapy and multidimensional care seem to be better than medications for treating the symptoms of aggression and agitation in persons with dementia," said Dr. Jennifer Watt of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael's Hospital-Unity Health in Toronto, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Taking dementia sufferers outside, allowing them to listen to music through headphones and massage therapy all seem to work better than medications to relieve their agitation and aggression symptoms.

Outdoor activities were best for agitation and aggression reduction. Verbal aggression was best treated by massage, touch therapy and doing things outside. Exercise and the modification of daily activities worked the best for dealing with physical aggression.

"There is a growing understanding that to, frankly, chemically sedate someone is not necessarily a humane thing to do," Watt said to The Times.

Alzheimer's disease, dementia, treatment
A new study indicates that simple things, such as outdoor activities, can reduce aggression in dementia patients as well as medications. Getty

Dementia is the most common result of Alzheimer's disease, which causes brain cells to degenerate and die. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of Alzheimer's include severe loss of memory and the inability to perform routine tasks.

Behavioral changes also occur as part of the disease, including depression, mood swings, and aggressiveness. Patients may not recognize loved ones or believe a treasured personal item has been stolen.

No cure exists for Alzheimer's, although some treatments can slow the disease or help improve symptoms. Eventually, the loss of brain function results in death.

Statistics from the Alzheimer's Association indicate that 5.8 million Americans are currently living with the disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the country.

Medicinally, mild to moderate cases of Alzheimer's are treated with cholinesterase inhibitors, which may reduce and control certain symptoms. The National Institute on Aging says the medicines may keep the brain from losing acetylcholine, a chemical thought to be integral to memory and thinking. Alzheimer's reduces the production of acetylcholine.

Severe cases can be treated with memantine, which regulates the brain chemical, glutamate. Excessive amounts of glutamate may contribute to the death of brain cells.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information also recommends cognitive exercises for Alzheimer's patients, such as math problems and memory games. Reality orientation training, in which the patient repeats their name, the date or the time, can also help keep patients aware of where they are in space and time.