Alzheimer’s disease ranks sixth in the list of top mortality causes in the United States. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that there are 5.8 million Americans afflicted with the disease, and this number is expected to triple in the next 40 years as the baby boomer population ages.
The three most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy-Body dementia, all three sharing similar side effects and treatment options. While researchers have yet to find a cure for dementia, a number of natural treatments and lifestyle changes have shown promise in terms of slowing down disease progression and enhancing the quality of life for those living with dementia.
Natural Alzheimer’s Treatment #1: Nutrition
There have been extensive studies in recent decades, as well as centuries-old wisdom across the globe, that shows how many aspects of nutrition work to help those with memory impairment and dementia. Improving some symptoms of dementia may be as simple as adding a supplement to your daily vitamin regimen, but it could also involve making drastic changes to your diet like eliminating white sugar. The effectiveness of nutrition therapy varies from person to person, but it’s likely that you may see some benefit.
Studies indicate that DHA supplementation may be helpful in suspending the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms. DHA is a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in eggs, fish, organ meats and algae. Found primarily in fish oil, this ingredient on the list of natural Alzheimer’s treatments has been shown to slow down cognitive degeneration.
Vitamin E is a viable addition to other Alzheimer’s treatments but medical providers caution that large doses can be risky. Food sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds, broccoli and other greens as well as fruits like mangoes, and blueberries. Simply eating a diet rich in these foods is often enough to improve your vitamin E levels, but you might want to request a nutritional panel from your doctor to determine if you could benefit from taking vitamin E or other supplements.
Turmeric and other members of the ginger family of plants have been used for centuries in western medicine to improve symptoms of aging, including inflammation and oxidation of cells, and has recently shown promise in improving symptoms of dementia such as memory loss and ability to focus, as well as pain and swelling associated with arthritis. This plant is shown to be potentially harmful to those with gallstones as well as jaundice and those who take blood thinners- be sure to speak with your doctor before starting any new herbal regimen.
Obesity is one of the greatest risk factors for developing dementia- those with a high BMI and a tendency to store fat around their waists are three and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. One substance linked to obesity that people tend to consume huge quantities of is sugar.
There is a clear link between obesity, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Sugar is known to cross the blood-brain barrier, which has some serious implications on the health of the brain, causing the decay of the synaptic pathways that help us think. Because of this and other symptoms, such as the tendency for those with diabetes to also be obese, diabetes has been shown to be a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
In order to help combat obesity and related diseases, The US Department of Health and Human Services has provided a guide to healthy eating for the standard American, including a two-week plan to make grocery shopping for the plan easy. Healthy dietary changes have been shown to be the most effective method of combating obesity and diabetes as well as dementia, in particular, switching to a Mediterranean diet based on whole grains, fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils. In conjunction with regular physical activity, this diet has been shown to reduce cognitive decline and to prevent its early onset. Proper nutrition and staying physically and mentally fit shows promise in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms, along with a host of other benefits outside of improved memory.
Natural Alzheimer’s Treatment #2: Exercise
The relationship between exercise and dementia has been studied extensively. It is estimated that reducing physical inactivity by as little as 25% in all elders could reduce as many as one million cases of dementia worldwide.
Exercise is particularly helpful in the management of vascular dementia, where brain cell death occurs due to the blood flow being restricted somewhere along the way due to plaque build-up. Studies show that regular exercise is a great strategy tocombat this plaque build-up, as well as to maintain the body’s muscle mass. According to recent research, 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week is shown to protect cognitive health in those over age 65.
There are many ways to reach your 150 minutes at home if you aren’t the gym-going type.
See our guide to the best 25 videos and exercise equipment for staying fit at home if you’d like some ideas. There are also many ways to get your blood pumping at home without ever picking up a dumbbell, simply incorporate your lifelong hobbies into aerobic activity. Gardening is a great activity that keeps elders active, as is walking around the neighborhood, yard work, and dancing.
Natural Alzheimer’s Treatment #3: Social Interaction
Another great approach to improving cognition and overall wellness in those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias is through psychosocial interventions. Whether your loved one is aging in place with your help, or living in an assisted living facility, research shows that ensuring constant social contact with a focus on what brings people joy improves the lives of those with dementia. There are many ways to improve the quality of life and possibly dementia symptoms through social activities.
Those living with relatives have many opportunities for improving their lives through social interactions. Research into group activities involving reminiscing showed immediate improvements in mood within the participants, and caregivers reminiscing in casual settings with elders provides a wealth of mental benefits as well, such as increased happiness for both the carer and person with dementia.
With declining cognitive abilities, Alzheimer’s patients can find new ways to communicate with caregivers through various sensory activities. Dance is a low impact physical activity that gives patients a sensory experience. Art activities such as pottery, done in a group setting or as an individual project is another sensory skill that helps stimulate the mind and work to slow the progression of this disease when used in combination with other Alzheimer’s treatments. This type of activity can help those who are beginning to deal with communication problems, giving another outlet in addition to speech which eventually becomes difficult in advanced dementia.
Day programs, or aduly daycares, are places that care for a group of elders, often with varying degrees of dementia, for a fee. These programs generally run for the length of a full day, or half of a day, and provide all means and supplies that would be needed to care for the elders as well as entertain them. Research into these programs shows benefits for caregivers and those with dementia alike, as well as for those living in nursing homes.
Natural Alzheimer’s Treatment #4: Sleep
Research indicates there is a strong link between cognition and sleep. Studies into sleep deprivation show that healthy adults losing even one-third of a normal night’s worth of sleep can suffer severe short-term memory loss, comparable to cognitive impairment seen in dementia. Those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias can suffer even greater consequences when their sleep is disturbed, making normal dementia symptoms worse. Normally, sleep disturbances are common side effects of dementia, so this problem can be quite complicated for an elder with dementia as well as their caregiver.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to improve symptoms of insomnia as well as depression in elders, the main benefit of therapy being education about good sleep hygiene. Elders and their caregivers both benefit from CBT for stress relief and insomnia.
Another useful tool to help regulate our circadian rhythms (or sleep cycles) as we age is bright-light therapy (BLT), where bright lights are viewed by the person with insomnia at certain times of day in order to prompt the body into picking up a healthy circadian rhythm. Exercise is also a great way to improve sleep, with research showing that regular aerobic exercise is one of the best ways to naturally regulate sleep. There are many natural and medical ways to combat poor sleep- see our guide on getting more quality rest and the importance of a good night’s sleep here.
Natural Alzheimer’s Treatment #5: Non-invasive Medical Options
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin needles into the body at specific medians to facilitate a range of health improvements, including improved cognition in dementia patients as well as immediate and long-term pain relief. This medical procedure has been used for centuries across the globe, and modern science has verified it’s efficiency through MRI studies. Recent clinical trials show that not only is acupuncture a safe option that improves cognitive ability, but trial participants reported improvement in other areas as well, including pain and insomnia.
Reflexology, the practice of careful foot and hand massage to alleviate pain, and gentle massage are both proven to be great ways to improve quality of life for those living with dementia, as well as improve mood. Nursing home studies show that massage improved pain and reduces distress in memory care patients.
Unfortunately, there is no miracle cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But natural Alzheimer’s treatments that slow the progression are welcome news for patients and their caregivers, and promote a healthier body and mind overall. Have you found any of these treatments to be helpful in your experience with loved ones or patients living with Alzheimer’s?
In the inevitable event that medical help is needed, maybe you’re one of the 90% of elders that want to age in place and don’t want to move into an assisted living facility. If this is the case, see our guide on when to think about in-home health care services.
If becoming a family caregiver is a solution you’re thinking about, consider both the benefits of taking care of your loved one as they age at home, as well as the cons of facilitating in-home health care services, provided either by an agency or a trained friend or family member. When taking care of the side effects of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias at home becomes too difficult for a home caregiver, assisted living might be something you’ll want to learn more about- feel free to reach out for information about assisted living facilities in your area here.