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Alternative Treatments & Therapies for Dementia

In addition to prescription medication, many individuals with dementia use herbal medicine, supplemental nutrition, or other alternative therapies to help treat their disease’s progression and its symptoms. Diet and physical activity may help slow the progression of the illness.

Diet

A healthy diet has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and may also help slow progression of the disease. Specifically, eating fish and leafy green vegetables (for example, spinach and romaine lettuce) and cruciferous vegetables (for example, broccoli and cauliflower) has a positive effect. A colorful diet may also be important because fruits and vegetables that are high in color often contain chemicals called antioxidants that help protect cells from damage. Other foods being studied for possible brain-protecting effects include turmeric, a yellow spice used to make some curries and soy protein.

Physical Activity and Exercise

Physical activity and exercise appear to protect the health of the brain and have been associated with less mental decline with age – now studies are looking at whether they can help slow progression of dementia.

Herbal and Dietary Supplements

Ginkgo Biloba

The most commonly mentioned herbal medicine in the treatment of dementia symptoms is ginkgo biloba, an extract taken from the leaves of the ginkgo tree. This extract is rich in antioxidants and is commonly used to improve a wide range of bodily functions, from circulation to mental function. There is not a lot of evidence that proves the benefit of ginkgo biloba for dementia patients, but in general it seems to have few side effects. It may prevent or delay the onset of dementia and may even help slow the progression of the disease.

Other Supplements

Other supplements used by individuals with dementia include supplemental nutrition such as:

  • vitamin E
  • selegiline
  • melatonin
  • DHA (an omega 3 fatty acid found in fish)

As with gingko biloba, vitamin E and selegline are rich in antioxidants. Low levels of vitamin E over an extended period of time have been linked to the development of dementia, but it is not clear how its use as a supplement can affect dementia once it has been diagnosed. The hormone melatonin, normally secreted by our own bodies, can help individuals who have insomnia and other problems related to the sleep-wake cycle, such as sundowning (symptoms getting worse at night).

Eating a lot of fish has been observed to be associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, studies are looking at whether taking fish oil or DHA, a fatty acid found in fish, might slow down damage to the brain in Alzheimer’s.

Many herbal and over-the-counter supplements are not monitored or regulated as carefully as prescription medications, so be sure to ask your doctor if and how much of a supplement should be used.

Complimentary and Alternative Medicine Treatments and Other Alternative Therapies

Complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) encompasses a wider range of treatments and approaches — such as acupuncture and homeopathic medicine — that have previously been outside the scope of regular medicine. In recent years, more doctors are recommending these treatment to supplement medications or more traditional treatments.

Individuals with dementia may benefit from massage therapy or acupuncture. Whereas massage therapy stimulates movement and the flow of blood and lymph in the body, acupuncture is thought to correct and improve the flow of the body’s energy, or Qi. Regardless of their focus, both massage therapy and acupuncture provide the opportunity for touch and the release of stress and pain that may underlie many of the behavioral and psychiatric problems that can arise in individuals with dementia. Other therapies, such as art and music therapy or aromatherapy, may help individuals with dementia remember and experience memories more fully through the use of familiar colors, sounds, and smells.

As with herbal supplements, the field of CAM treatments and therapies is not always strictly regulated or controlled. It is important when seeking out these treatments to inquire about a practitioner’s experience and certification.

Resources

Alternative Treatments for Alzheimer's

Source: Alzheimer's Association
Description: This web page provides a thoughtful discussion of the alternative treatments for Alzheimer's that are being used (vitamins, herbal remedies) and whether there is any proof that these dietary supplements work.

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Complimentary Therapies in Alzheimer's Disease

Source: Alzheimer's Association
Description: This website offers an explanation of the various complimentary and alternative medicine therapies and treatments that are available to individuals with dementia, such as aromatherapy, art therapy, herbal supplements, exercise, and other therapies.

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