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A Prescription for Caregivers: Participation in the Care of Memory-Loss Patients

Individuals experiencing marked memory loss, caused by conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, are sometimes treated with antipsychotic medications to prevent or decrease the frequency of psychological and behavioral symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, agitation and aggression. Use of these medications is appropriate when properly prescribed. It is important, however, for family members and caregivers to play an active role in their loved one's health care, to inquire whether there are alternatives to medications, and to ensure that antipsychotic medications are prescribed only when appropriate.

Caregivers are always a patient's best advocate. Effective communication with medical professionals can even assist providers with the diagnosis and treatment of patients with memory loss. For example, caregivers should work with providers to identify whether any painful conditions that the loved one cannot describe or any environmental conditions trigger negative reactions. In some cases, understanding the reason for erratic or unwanted behavior can help to avoid unnecessary prescription of antipsychotic medication. In addition, caregivers should inquire whether memory loss patients could benefit from medical or social programs offered in the community.

As noted above, antipsychotic medications play an important role in managing symptoms of memory loss when properly prescribed. They should not be used for purposes of discipline or chemical restraint. As with all medications, patients and caregivers should not stop taking prescribed medications without first consulting the patient's doctor.