Who Uses Alternative Therapies?

Fifty-five percent of people with Alzheimer's disease have tried at least one unconventional therapy to improve memory, according to a 1994 survey by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. The most commonly used therapies included vitamins, health foods and herbal medicines. The patients' caregivers, who answered the surveys, reported some memory gains in one-third of the patients.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive deterioration of the brain, resulting in decreased mental powers. It most often strikes after age 65 and is the fourth leading cause of death among adults in this age group. Its cause is unknown, but slow viruses, genetic traits, environmental factors (such as aluminum and pesticides), and other possibilities may be contributing factors.

Several alternative therapies offer ways to slow the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease in some patients. Various treatments can be used as preventive measures for people whose families have a history of the disease.

Nutritional Therapy for Alzheimer's Disease

Nutritional therapists use diet to deter Alzheimer's disease in susceptible people. Many practitioners now believe that certain nutritional deficiencies or excesses may actually trigger the disease. For example, free radicals, compounds in the body that can damage tissues and quicken the aging process, have been linked to the progression of the disease. Antioxidants have the ability to neutralize free radicals and are, therefore, typically recommended as preventive measures. Nutrients that are antioxidants or help in the antioxidant process include:

  • Beta-carotene
  • Vitamins C and E
  • Selenium

Good food sources of beta-carotene include apricots, carrots, spinach and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C is found in broccoli, grapefruits, oranges and strawberries, and vitamin E is available from nuts and vegetable oils. Selenium is found in brewer's yeast, cabbage, fish, liver and whole-grain cereals. Supplements may also be prescribed to supply antioxidants, especially in the case of vitamin E, which has high-fat food sources.

Some supplements may actually be useful for slowing the progression of the disease. Phosphatidyl choline enhances the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine-transmitting neurons and their target nerve cells are the most frequently affected part of the brain in Alzheimer's disease. N-Acetyl-l-carnitine also appears to protect neurons in a similar manner. Phosphatidyl serine can enhance neural functioning significantly by normalizing cell membrane fluidity.

People with Alzheimer's disease are frequently deficient in vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and folate. Adding these can also be preventive measures. Vitamin B12 deficiency is often associated with depression, confusion, neurologic problems and memory loss. Folate deficiency can also cause these symptoms, and deficiency of vitamin B6 is associated with a decline in the number of receptors in the brain for the neurotransmitter dopamine. All of these symptoms of deficiency seem to parallel the major symptoms of Alzheimer's-related brain dysfunction.

Other helpful supplements include:

  • Zinc
  • Niacin
  • Coenzyme Q10

Because high concentrations of aluminum may contribute to Alzheimer disease -- autopsies have revealed high levels of aluminum in the brains of people with the disease -- cookware and utensils made from this metal should not be used when preparing food. Avoiding aluminum requires detective work; it can be found in drinking water, processed foods, toothpaste, deodorants and antiperspirants, antacid tablets and other everyday products.

A nutritional preventive strategy might consist of taking vitamin E, vitamin C beta-carotene and phosphatidyl serine (300 mg) on a daily basis.

Chelation Therapy for Alzheimer's Disease

Whether or not Alzheimer's disease is triggered by the presence of heavy metals in the body is the subject of much debate. The usual metal suspect is aluminum, although mercury and manganese have also been implicated. Amid this debate, practitioners of chelation therapy have reported that their patients who are in the early stages of the disease have found relief from their symptoms after these metals are removed from the body.

To treat Alzheimer's disease, chelation therapy involves intravenous injections of disodium ethylenediaminetetraaceticethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) -- an amino acid that binds to metallic ions in the body and renders them chemically inactive. These joined-together substances are then excreted by the kidneys in the urine. Clinical studies have shown that this process also improves the flow of blood in the brain.

The treatments are often combined with a supplemental regimen of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements to replace any lost during the chelation process. Reported side effects have included nausea and vomiting and, if high doses of a chelating agent are used in the therapy, some damage to the kidneys.

Only a licensed physician is qualified to perform chelation therapy. Look for someone who has been well trained in this treatment area and has experience specifically with Alzheimer's disease.

Sound Therapy for Alzheimer's Disease

Sound therapy offers several benefits during the many stages of Alzheimer's disease. Sound and music are very useful in treating the "problem behaviors" that often accompany the disease, such as agitation, anxiety and insomnia. Sound therapy can be used to:

  • Induce feelings of calmness and relaxation
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve the overall sense of well-being

Music from the patients' earlier days may be used to give them some sense of place and time and reminders of their lives. This is especially helpful in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer's disease. Hearing music they know and remember may also encourage people to dance, offering much-needed exercise. Finally, music can replace forms of communication that are lost as Alzheimer's disease progresses.

In the home, familiar music can be played to provide stimulation to the person with Alzheimer's. Making tapes of music from different periods in the person's life can also be helpful in calming and orienting the person with the disease.

Other Alzheimer's Disease Therapies
  • Bodywork for Alzheimer's Disease -- Massage, dance therapy, and other bodywork therapies can boost mood and relieve anxiety and agitation.
  • Environmental Medicine for Alzheimer's Disease -- Some believe that mercury amalgam tooth fillings, aluminum in antiperspirants, certain allergenic foods, and several other factors in the environment may trigger Alzheimer's disease in susceptible people. Treatment involves avoidance and removal (in the case of fillings).
  • Herbal Medicine for Alzheimer's Disease -- Ginkgo extract is often prescribed to boost mental function. Another herb with promise is evening primrose oil.
  • Homeopathy for Alzheimer's Disease -- Several remedies may be effective in the early stages of the disease.
  • Hydrotherapy for Alzheimer's Disease -- Treatment such as a neutral bath can ease agitation and other accompanying symptoms.
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