Is Alzheimer's medicaiton also effective for other types of dementia?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

I've always heard that Alzheimer's can only accurately be diagnosed with an autopsy after death. My 90 year old mother has recently been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's and put on Aricept and Namenda.

Every doctor I know says someone with dementia has "Alzheimer's" but I know there are other forms of dementia and wonder if these drugs are only helpful with true Alzheimer's. Is it sort of a "can't hurt if it's not true Alzheimer's and may help if it's another form of dementia?

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

You have done your research well! The only way that Alzheimer's disease can be accurately diagnosed is with a complete neurologic work-up performed by a team of specialists. The testing includes medical exam, brain scan, family/social history, and neuro-psych testing; in 2011, the results of diagnostic accuracy are extremely high.
The term 'dementia' refers to symptoms of cognitive and behavioral changes while the words 'Alzheimer's disease' refer to an actual diagnosis. There are other diseases that mimic Alzheimer's (AD) including Vascular Dementia (Multi-infarct & Binswangers are examples), LewyBody disease, Pick's and others. Frequently a person exhibiting signs of dementia may need to be studied over a short course of time and be re-evaluated periodically. These future exams may include another brain scan and plenty of solid family feedback! The jury is still out when it comes to whether or not these medications may be effective for diseases other than Alzheimer's but, like you, I too would opt to have my loved one placed on a trial run with the hope the meds may have the appropriate efficacy even if it is not AD but a related disease. Your mom is fortunate to have you as such a supportive advocate. Do take care of yourself.