Alternative Therapies and Treatments - Alzheimer's Disease

Acupuncture and other alternative treatment

There’s no cure or really effective treatment for Alzheimer’s so it’s hardly surprising that many sufferers turn to alternative or complementary therapies in a bid to ease their condition.

Alternative therapies are basically just that - an alternative to conventional treatments – whereas complementary therapies work alongside mainstream medicine.

In the initial stages of the disease a person is still usually able to make their own choices about what they want to try and not try. It may be a new herbal remedy which has been flagged up as helping the symptoms, or a therapy that other people swear by.

In the later stages they will be relying very much on their carer to decide whether these therapies have any benefit. It’s important that if a person feels that they will benefit from an alternative treatment or therapy that they make their wishes known when they can.

Alternative / Complementary Therapies

There are several herbal, vitamin and dietary supplements which are promoted as beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s. The most popular is Ginkgo biloba. This is a plant extract, used for centuries in Chinese medicine, which is believed to stimulate nerve cell activity while protecting the cells from further damage.

Another is the moss extract Huperzine A - a dietary supplement which some small independent studies have shown to improve memory in people with Alzheimer’s.

Ginseng and vitamin B12 are claimed to improve mental function while vitamin E in high doses has been shown to slow down the progression of the disease in some people.

Coral calcium is marketed on the Internet as a so called cure for Alzheimer’s. This is taken from the shells of living organisms that once made up coral reefs. Manufacturers claim that the coral calcium contains added minerals which are effective in getting the body to heal itself from any major illness. But the “evidence” is very anecdotal and there have been no clinical studies to back up the claims.

The most frequently used complementary therapy is massage – particularly aromatherapy massage. The use of lavender and lemon balm oils has been found to have a soothing effect on Alzheimer’s sufferers, particularly those prone to agitation. Massage calms both the body and mind and for many people with Alzheimer’s it can help with sleeping problems. Other oils such as rosemary may help stimulate the senses.

Acupuncture can also be used, working on the theory that the very fine needles placed in various points on the body can unblock the energy pathways to the brain. In some cases it can be used to relieve pain caused by the muscles seizing up and becoming rigid as the part of the brain controlling that area deteriorates.

These alternative treatments are never likely to replace conventional medicine but for many people, particularly in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, they can give them a sense of control because they feel they are doing positive something about their illness.

Of course there are many doctors who don’t believe that any complementary or alternative therapies actually work. Conventional medicine is based on scientific fact which proves that there are benefits to certain treatments. But there has been very little scientific research into complementary or alternative therapies so some doctors believe they offer false hope and in some cases could be harmful. It’s always worth checking with your doctor before embarking on any therapy or trying an alternative remedy.


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