Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia
Dementia is characterized by impairment of memory, judgment, and abstract thinking. It may be caused by stress, by impaired circulation caused by a buildup of fatty deposits in the blood vessels of the brain or by a degenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Recognized risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease include acetylcholine deficiency, free-radical damage and inflammation of brain tissue. Diet can play a role in the prevention of Alzheimer’s by nourishing the brain; by lowering cholesterol, which causes fatty deposits to form in the blood vessels of the brain; and by providing antioxidants to protect against free radicals that cause brain-cell damage. Foods that contain choline, a building block of acetylcholine (a chemical that plays a key role in cognition and reasoning) may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It is due to a degeneration of brain cells. Some forms of dementia are caused by specific neu-rologic or medical diseases and may be treat-able. The cause of Alzheimer’s disease, however, is unknown, and no effective treatment exists. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are progressive, but the rate of degeneration varies greatly from person to person.
Alzheimer’s disease gradually produces abnormalities in certain areas of the brain.
The particular behavioral characteristics of the disease depend on which area of the brain is most affected by the disease process.
The brain cells of persons with Alzheimer’s disease have characteristic features that were first described in 1907 by Alois Alzheimer.
The brain also has chemical abnormalities related to the substances that allow the brain cells to communicate with one another.
Research on the cause and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is progressing. Among the several possible causes that are being explored are genetic factors, toxic exposures, abnormal protein production, viruses, abnormalities in the barrier between the blood and the brain, and neurochemical abnormalities. No particular hypothesis has turned out to be the entire answer thus far, but aging and genetic factors seem to contribute to the disease.
• Fresh fruits and vegetables, which provide vitamins and minerals to feed brain tissue and antioxidants to eliminate free radicals
• Foods that contain choline, a building block of acetylcholine (Brazil nuts, lecithin, dandelion flowers, mung beans, lentils, fava beans)
• Nuts and seeds, which provide essential fatty acids to nourish the brain
• Meat and dairy products
• Environmental toxins
• Refined and processed foods
• Fatty foods, fried foods and oils (except extra virgin olive oil
• Aluminum in cookware, foil, deodorants and antacids. There is a suspected relationship between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. Avoid preparing foods with aluminum cooking utensils. Although no direct link has been established between Alzheimer’s and aluminum, high concentrations of aluminum have been found when autopsies were performed on Alzheimer’s patients. It is probably wise to err on the side of caution.
Signs and Symptoms
• Gradual loss of memory for recent events and inability to learn new information
• Growing tendency to repeat oneself, misplace objects, become confused, and get lost
• Slow disintegration of personality, judg-ment, and social graces
• Increasing irritability, anxiety, depression, confusion, and restlessness
No single test can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, with the exception of a brain biopsy or an autopsy. Many of the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, such as memory loss, occur as a normal part of aging or as a part of other diseases such as vitamin B12 deficiency, hypothyroidism, depression, an adverse reaction to prescribed medications, or a chronic subdural hematoma.
How Can Acupuncture Help Alzheimer’s Disease?
In TCM, we consider that many diseases are caused by a buildup of what we call “phlegm” in the organ systems of the body. The protein deposits in the brain referred to as “plaques” and “tangles” that seem to be the cause of dementia in older adults may be roughly analogous to the TCM concept of phlegm. Phlegm causes obstructions that block the free flow of Qi and blood through the body, causing breakdown in proper communication and cooperation between systems.
According to TCM theory, the brain and the kidneys are closely related; the kidneys nourish the brain. If there is weakness or deficiency of Qi in the kidneys, it can lead to symptoms like dizziness, confusion, amnesia and memory problems. TCM treatment for dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy Body dementia, will focus on strengthening the kidneys and clearing phlegm from the body.
Acupuncture treatment can have a positive effect on neurotransmitters and neurochemical activity, helping to alleviate a variety of neurological and mental health disorders. Current research is helping to show that stimulating specific pressure points can activate parts of the brain in a way that may reduce the cognitive and memory-related symptoms of dementia.
It is best to initiate treatment for dementia as soon as it becomes apparent, so that we can help to limit the progress of cognitive decline. TCM provides a holistic way to treat each individual so that they can continue to live a full, active life. At Advanced Acupuncture, we have over 20 years of experience helping patients with neurological conditions of all kinds.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only.