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Can Alternative Health Practices Treat Alzheimer’s Disease?

Many people, particularly older individuals, worry about forgetfulness and whether it is the first sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, forgetfulness has many causes. It can also be a normal part of aging, or related to various treatable health issues or to emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety or depression.

Although no treatment has been proven to stop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia, some conventional drugs may limit worsening of symptoms for a period of time in the early stages of the disease.

Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s disease and people worried about getting Alzheimer’s disease turn to alternative treatments, such as supplements and mind-body practices. But are these sometimes-expensive products and practices effective? Can they be dangerous?

Many dietary supplements are marketed with claims that they enhance memory or improve brain function and health. To date, research has yielded no convincing evidence that any dietary supplement can reverse or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Additional research on dietary supplements, as well as several mind and body practices such as music therapy and mental imagery, which have shown promise in basic research or preliminary clinical studies, is underway.

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health shares five important things to know about current research on complementary health approaches for cognitive function, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease:

  1. To date, there is no convincing evidence from a large body of research that any dietary supplement can prevent worsening of cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. This includes studies of gingko, omega-3 fatty acids/fish oil, vitamins B and E, Asian ginseng, grape seed extract and curcumin. Additional research on some of these supplements is underway.
  2. Preliminary studies of some mind and body practices, such as music therapy, suggest they may be helpful for some of the symptoms related to dementia. Several studies on music therapy in people with Alzheimer’s disease have shown improvement in agitation, depression and quality of life.
  3. Mindfulness-based stress reduction programs may be helpful in reducing stress among caregivers of patients with dementia. To reduce caregiver stress, studies suggest that these types of stress-reduction programs may be more helpful for improving mental health than attending an education and support program or just taking time off from providing care.
  4. Don’t use complementary health approaches as a reason to postpone seeing a healthcare provider about memory loss. Treatable conditions such as depression, bad reactions to medications, or thyroid, liver or kidney problems can impair memory.
  5. Some complementary health approaches interact with medications and can have serious side effects. If you are considering replacing conventional medications with other approaches, talk to your healthcare provider.

Source: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and integrative health approaches. One of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NCCIH’s mission is to define, through rigorous scientific investigation, the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative health interventions and their roles in improving health and health care.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions about your memory, and share information about any medications you are taking, including herbal supplements.


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