What Drugs Are Used to Calm Dementia Patients?

Many different drugs are used to calm individuals with dementia and their symptoms, with medication regimens based on the type of dementia each individual has. Some of the most common include painkillers like buprenorphine, antipsychotic medications and benzodiazepines.

There is no cure for dementia and, as a progressive disease, it gets worse over time, often resulting in mood swings, anxiety, anger or other emotions that are hard for individuals and their families to deal with.

But that doesn’t mean you have to deal with frustration and other difficult emotions without help. There are many ways to calm individuals with dementia and help them find the support they need for a happy, productive life and ease the stress on their family and friends.

Medication is just one of those techniques, and it’s often combined with other tools, such as music therapy, to create a calm, positive environment.

Calming Medication for Individuals with Dementia

If you are working with a relative or friend with dementia who’s using medication to handle their condition, what medication should you expect to come into contact with? What drugs are used to calm dementia patients? Most of the medications used fall into a few categories:

  • Medications that help with pain or constipation
  • Antipsychotics
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Medication that helps with seizures
  • Anti-depressants
  • Medications designed to help with memory and clouded thoughts

Whether you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia diagnosis, medication can help keep individuals calm and reduce their stress and anxiety. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of drugs that are used in Alzheimer’s care and other dementia cases.

Preventing Pain

No one feels calm when they are battling physical pain, and those with dementia are no exception. Often, doctors will prescribe buprenorphine to help reduce physical pain. It can be administered through the skin in a patch form, making it easier for those who have trouble swallowing pills.

Other types of pain medication may be prescribed depending on the situation. For example, some individuals with dementia may experience painful side effects, such as constipation, from other medications they’re taking. A physician may then prescribe a fiber supplement, such as methylcellulose or wheat dextran, along with a dramatic increase in water and movement to reduce constipation-related pain.

Quick Reference of Dementia Medications by Condition

Anxiety

Common Drugs Taken:

  • Benzodiazepines [Lorazepam (Ativan), Temazepam (Restoril), Diazepam (Valium), Alprazolam (Xanax), and Clonazepam (Klonopin)]
    • Uses: Causes relaxation and sedation. Suitable for panic attacks, sedation and insomnia.
    • Risks and Side Effects: Benzodiazepines are habit-forming. Other side effects include increased confusion, increased risk of falls; sedation, drowsiness and dizziness (when used in combination with alcohol and other sedating drugs); paradoxical agitation; increased confusion; causing or worsening delirium or dementia symptoms; possible acceleration of cognitive decline.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, scheduled activities and strategies to improve communication and interaction to reduce anxiety.

Pain

Common Drugs Taken:

  • Non-Opioid Analgesics [Including Acetaminophen]
    • Uses: Alleviates and manages pain symptoms.
    • Risks and Side Effects: Constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, upset stomach, ringing in the ears, skin itching/rash, and dry mouth.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Massage, relaxation techniques, physical therapy, pet therapy, and gel packs.
  • Opioid Analgesics [Including Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, Methadone, Morphine, Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Tramadol, Buponet]
    • Uses: Alleviating and managing pain symptoms.
    • Risks and Side Effects: Opioids are habit-forming. Other side effects include constipation, sedation, cognitive impairment, delirium, and respiratory depression.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Massage, relaxation techniques, physical therapy, pet therapy, and gel packs.

Psychosis & Hallucinations

Common Drugs Taken:

  • Antipsychotics [Including Risperidone (Risperdal), Quetiapine (Seroquel), Olanzapine (Zyprexa), Haloperidol (Haldol)]
    • Uses: Calm agitation or aggression through sedating effects. May also reduce true psychosis symptoms, such as delusions, hallucinations, or paranoid beliefs.
    • Risks and Side Effects: Decreased cognitive function and possible acceleration of cognitive decline; increased risk of falls; increased risk of stroke and of death; and extrapyramidal symptoms, including stiffness, tremor and a variety of other muscle coordination problems.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: The DICE (Describe, Investigate, Create and Evaluate) therapy approach, which involves identifying triggers; music.

Depression

Common Drugs Taken:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants [Including Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Sertraline (Zoloft), and Paroxetine (Paxil)]
    • Uses: Ease symptoms of moderate to severe depression. May also be used to treat anxiety disorders and some other conditions.
    • Risks and Side Effects: Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; headache; drowsiness; dry mouth; insomnia; nervousness, agitation, or restlessness; dizziness; sexual problems, such a reduced sexual desire, difficulty reaching orgasm, or erectile dysfunction; and changes in appetite leading to weight gain or weight loss.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Support groups; scheduling a predictable daily routine; making a list of enjoyable activities, places and people; exercise; reassurance and nurturing; encouraging and recognizing contributions.
  • Mirtazapine (Remeron)
    • Uses: Treats depression, as well as obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety
    • Risks and Side Effects: Moderate side effects including dry mouth, increased appetite and weight gain, headaches, sleepiness, constipation. Serious (less common) side effects include severe stomach and back pain and/or nausea; thoughts self-harm; headaches, long-lasting confusion or weakness and frequent muscle cramps; jaundice; high fever, sore throat and mouth ulcers.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Support groups; scheduling a predictable daily routine; making a list of enjoyable activities, places and people; exercise; reassurance and nurturing; encouraging and recognizing contributions.
  • Trazodone (Desyrel)
    • Uses: Improves mood, appetite, energy levels and sleep, as well as reducing anxiety and depression-related insomnia
    • Risks and Side Effects: Blurred vision; dizziness; drowsiness; dry mouth; fatigue; headache; nausea/vomiting; constipation; swelling; confusion; disorientation; lack of coordination; nasal congestion; faintness or dizziness; fainting; tremor; weight changes; ejaculation disorder; decreased libido; painful erection; sedation; hair loss; anxiety; acne; anemia; increased appetite; double vision; insomnia; urinary retention; and vertigo.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Support groups; scheduling a predictable daily routine; making a list of enjoyable activities, places and people; exercise; reassurance and nurturing; encouraging and recognizing contributions.

Cognitive Impairment & Memory Issues

Common Drugs Taken:

  • Donepezil (Aricept)
    • Uses: Treats mild, moderate and severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
    • Risks and Side Effects: Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, upset stomach, lack of hunger, weight loss or low heart rate. Other less common problems are feeling tired, having trouble sleeping, vivid dreams or muscle cramps. Less common serious side effects include slow heart rate and fainting; stomach ulcers and bleeding; worsening of asthma and other lung problems; seizures; and difficulty urinating.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Support groups; talk therapy; cognitive behavioral therapy; cognitive stimulation therapy; cognitive rehabilitation; “life story work;” exercise, singing, dancing and art. Experimental therapies, including deep brain stimulation and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).
  • Rivastigmine (Exelon)
    • Uses: Improves memory, thinking and other mental functions.
    • Risks and Side Effects: Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, upset stomach, lack of hunger, weight loss or low heart rate. Other less common problems are feeling tired, having trouble sleeping, vivid dreams or muscle cramps. Severe side effects may include rash, hives, difficulty breathing or swallowing, black and tarry stools, blood in stools, bloody vomit and other changes to vomit, difficulty urinating, painful urination, seizures, depression, anxiety, aggressive behavior, hearing voices/seeing things that don’t exist, uncontrollable movements and muscle contractions.\
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Support groups; talk therapy; cognitive behavioral therapy; cognitive stimulation therapy; cognitive rehabilitation; “life story work;” exercise, singing, dancing and art. Experimental therapies, including deep brain stimulation and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).
  • Galantamine (Razadyne)
    • Uses: Treats mild to moderate confusion. May improve memory, awareness and the ability to perform daily functions.
    • Risks and Side Effects: More common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, decreased appetite and weight loss. Serious side effects may include serious skin reactions; atrioventricular (AV) block, slow heart rate and fainting, stomach ulcers and bleeding, lung problems in people with asthma and other lung diseases, seizures and trouble urinating.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Support groups; talk therapy; cognitive behavioral therapy; cognitive stimulation therapy; cognitive rehabilitation; “life story work;” exercise, singing, dancing and art. Experimental therapies, including deep brain stimulation and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).
  • Memantine (Namenda)
    • Uses: May improve the ability to think and remember and/or slow the loss of these abilities.
    • Risks and Side Effects: Dizziness, confusion, aggression, depression, headache, sleepiness, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, weight gain, body pain and cough. Serious side effects may include shortness of breath and hallucinations.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Support groups; talk therapy; cognitive behavioral therapy; cognitive stimulation therapy; cognitive rehabilitation; “life story work;” exercise, singing, dancing and art. Experimental therapies, including deep brain stimulation and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).

Seizures & Mood Stabilizers

Common Drugs Taken:

  • Valproic acid (Depakote)
    • Uses: May be used to treat aggression. Has a sedative effective on agitated physical and verbal behaviors.
    • Risks and Side Effects: Confusion or worsened thinking, dizziness, difficulty walking or balancing, tremor and the development of other “Parkinsonism” symptoms, and gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
    • Non-Drug Treatments: Identifying underlying causes, promoting physical and emotional comfort, and changing the environment.

Non-Medical Ways to Calm Those with Dementia

Drugs are not the only way to calm individuals with dementia, nor should they necessarily be the first technique you try. There are many other ways to keep individuals with dementia calm and help them pursue activities that bring them joy.

Often, doctors will encourage caretakers and people living with dementia to engage in specific activities that have been shown to calm people with Alzheimer’s or other related diseases. For example, music therapy has been proven to release dopamine, the “feel good chemical,” in the brain.

Aromatherapy can also be used, either on its own or as a complement to drug therapy. This means using high-grade essential oils, either on the skin or in a diffuser that spreads it into the air. Smells like lavender or vanilla can decrease agitation and improve sleep, while vetiver, cedarwood or rosemary can help with focus.

Finally, a gentle touch can also be extremely effective when someone is confused or upset. Caregivers can offer a soft back rub to soothe a friend or family member who may be triggered by a stressful situation or unforeseen change. Pets are also highly effective, as they can cuddle up next to someone and provide a reassuring presence when fellow humans are overwhelming.

Find the Dementia Care Regimen that Works For You

No instance of dementia is the same. Individuals react differently to the disease and the medication used to treat it. It can take time to create a combination of drug and behavioral treatments that work.

Many times, the best, most calming way to approach dementia is to find a comfortable, secure dementia care community. At The Cabana at Jensen Dunes, we know just how important a comfortable home is for individuals with dementia. That’s why we’ve designed our Florida memory care community to include all the comforts of home with the safety and security needed when dealing with dementia.

At The Cabana, you’ll find spacious hallways, relaxing routines and dementia care programs designed to help individuals with memory impairments engage and improve cognition. You’ll also find highly trained staff that can help with medication management, ensuring your relative or friend takes their medication in the correct dose at the correct time every day.

For more information on memory care communities like The Cabana, download our free Memory Care Guide or contact us online. Our team will be happy to answer your questions and help you learn more about how a comfortable home can work with dementia medication to improve quality of life for the people you care about most.