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Once in a great while, someone seems to reverse dementia with alternative treatments. That's too much for most of us to hope for, but there are "home remedies" that actually help.

Dementia is a dreadful, chronic, progressive disease — in almost every case. There are a few kinds of dementia that are naturally reversible, at least in part. These include dementias that are triggered by nutritional deficiencies, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and vitamin B12 deficiency, as well as alcoholic dementia, depression, and normal pressure hydrocephalus. And there are a few individuals who seem to defy the odds and get well even after a diagnosis of a normally terminal form of the disease.

 

For most people who have dementia, the challenge is to make the most of the time they have. Minimize symptoms. Maximize options. Live in the now. Alternative treatments and home remedies may improve life in the here and now, even if the battle against the disease reaches its inevitable conclusion. Here are seven natural, simple, safe, and effective remedies that can help.

The problem with most advice regarding alternative "treatments" for dementia is that they address preventing dementia rather than dealing with the disease once it has occurred. Here, we'll look at things that can help those who already have dementia.

Play card, video and board games

Board, card, and even some video gams can help maintain social connections and thinking skills in the early and middle stages of dementia. Usually these games have simple rules and simple objectives. For example, a card game frequently used in nursing facilities is "I got it!" An attendant holds up a large playing card, and players look in their hands to see if they have a match. There are video games that have players select items that go together, such as hammer and nail, or lettuce and tomato. It is important to remember that the point of the game is for all players to have fun, not to win against someone who has a cognitive disorder. 

Solve jigsaw puzzles

A clinical trial found that working jigsaw puzzles increased perception, constructional praxis (the ability to assemble and draw objects), mental rotation (the ability to rotate mental images of two-and three-dimensional objects), speed, flexibility, working memory, reasoning, and episodic memory (memories of personal experiences). However, the benefits of working puzzles are long-term, not immediate. They may measurably prevent decline over a period of months.

Modify diet to reduce inflammation

Most natural health gurus will tell anyone who listens that the foundation of good health is fighting inflammation. That's not really exactly true. Inflammation powers the immune system. It is a tool the body uses to clear out defective proteins and dying cells so it can replace them. If you had no inflammation at all, you would die.

The standard advice is to avoid red meat and sweeteners, both natural and artificial, and to stoke up on fruits and veggies. There is good evidence that it is helpful to avoid sugar. Unregulated blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes accelerate brain damage. Nine studies tell us that, on average, for every 100 grams (3-1/2 oz) of fruits and vegetables you eat every day, your risk of ever developing dementia goes down by 13 percent, although there is no evidence that starting a plant foods diet once you have already been diagnosed with dementia is similarly helpful. There is even evidence that taking an anti-inflammatory aspirin every day increases the risk of dementia.

So what kind of inflammation makes a difference in dementia? The inflammatory compound it makes the most sense to eliminate in most people who have dementia is gluten.

It's possible not to have full-blown celiac disease but still have problems with muscle coordination, peripheral neuropathy, and executive function that are tied to gluten sensitivity. Some researchers recommend a gluten-free diet for anyone who has been diagnosed with any kind of dementia. A gluten-free diet won't cure dementia, but it may slow it down.

Consider ginkgo extract

A specific extract of the herb ginkgo leaf called EGb 761® (sold under the brand names Rökan, Tanakan, and Tebonin) is approved throughout Europe as a treatment for dementia (although it is not covered by insurance in France). This approval isn't for "herbs" or even for "ginkgo," but rather for a specific product that has been thoroughly tested, in at least 40 clinical trials. This ginkgo product is not a cure-all for dementia, but it often, although not always, improves thinking abilities and slows down their decline. One study found that 160 mg of this ginkgo product was as effective as 5 mg a day of donepizil (Aricept). Studies have found that EGb 761 taken with Aricept increases its effects. There are very few reports of side effects of any kind from ginkgo, although there is a remote possibility of an interaction with blood thinning medications.

Some traditional herbal formulas of China and Japan seem to reduce the symptoms of some kinds of dementia. These are combinations of herbs, not single herbs, and the precise combination of which herbs in what amounts has to be chosen by an experienced practitioner of herbal medicine who is likely to have had some conventional medical training. 

Try acupressure

Shiatsu, Japanese acupressure massage, and a system of massage on 23 points on the body known as jin shin jyutsu sometimes coincide with improved memory and decreased pain. They are worth trying.

Play with dolls

Many women (and some men) who have dementia enjoy playing with dolls, much as children do. Playing with dolls often reduces anxiety and agitation and reduces the burden on caregivers.

Use aromatherapy to reduce pain and to stimulate brain

Lavender, lemon balm (melissa), and pine scents (used separately) have been shown to reduce sensitivity to pain. Lavender and lemon balm also reduce agitation and aggressive behavior. They don't have a direct effect on the underlying process of dementia, but by reducing pain they can reduce irritability and agitation. Vanilla scent, even in tiny amounts, helps the brain preserve the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and may aid memory, especially of happy events connected to food, eating, childhood experiences, and family gatherings.

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  • Photo courtesy of SteadyHealth

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