Guidelines for Managing Alzheimer's Disease

Published in: American Family Physician, v. 65, no. 12, June 15, 2002, p. 2225-2534

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2002

by Jeffrey L. Cummings, Janet C. Frank, Debra Cherry, Neal D. Kohatsu, Bryan Kemp, Linda Hewett, Brian Mittman

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Once the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease has been made, a treatment plan must be developed. This plan should include cholinesterase inhibitor therapy to temporarily improve cognition or slow the rate of cognitive decline, management of comorbid conditions, treatment of behavioral symptoms and mood disorders, provision of support and resources for patient and caregiver, and compliance with state-mandated reporting requirements for driving impairment and elder abuse. The primary caregiver can be a valuable ally in communication, management of care, and implementation of the care plan. Patient symptoms and care needs change as Alzheimer's disease progresses. In the early stage of the disease, the family physician should discuss realistic expectations for drug therapy, solicit patient and family preferences on future care choices, and assist with advance planning for future care challenges. In the middle stage, the patient may exhibit behavioral symptoms that upset the caregiver and are difficult to manage. When the patient is in the advanced stage of Alzheimer's disease, the caregiver may need support to provide for activities of daily living, help in making a difficult placement decision, and guidance in considering terminal care options. Throughout the course of the disease, routine use of community resources allows care to be provided by a network of professionals, many of whom will be specialists in Alzheimer's disease.

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