Dementia may seem like a natural part of growing older. There are an estimated 44 million people living with some form of dementia or Alzheimer’s today, but only one in four of these individuals are diagnosed with the disease. Males make up only one-third of the total patients with dementia, and over 200,000 people have early-onset Alzheimer’s or dementia that begins before the age of 65. African-Americans and Hispanics are particularly susceptible to the disease, with studies from the National Institute on Aging showing that the incidence of these diseases more than doubles as we age.
Individuals in the U.S. develop Alzheimer’s at the alarming rate of one every 33 seconds, and these diseases are in the top ten causes for American deaths. Even with this evidence of how strongly dementia and related diseases are impacting our vulnerable older adults, there are still only a handful of medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors and Memantine that are approved for their treatment. With these stats in hand, let’s explore some natural treatments that may benefit individuals who are in the early stage of dementia.
Increased Mental Stimulation
Perhaps the most natural of all the ways to improve the outlook for an individual with dementia is to modify their routine by offering various types of therapy. Therapy could include simply talking about their hobbies and better days. Including music as a background track for your conversation has also proven to be helpful in many cases. Going over an individual’s personal information on a regular basis can help train the brain to improve recall. Mentally engaging activities such as art, cooking, singing and word games are also good ways to help combat early-stage dementia.
Assuming your loved one is able, physical activity can help refresh the mind by getting your blood pumping and reducing the carbon dioxide in their blood. Dancing, walking or even raising their arms or feet if they are wheelchair-bound can be helpful ways to stay moving. This helps reinforce the neuron connectors in their brain to keep electrical impulses (thoughts!) flowing more smoothly. Gardening is an exceptional activity for those suffering from mild dementia. Not only does gardening provide some limited activity, it also can be very comforting with the repetitive tasks required.
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Living with dementia can be especially challenging if your loved one is unable to rest well at night. We have all stayed up too late and felt very groggy and under the weather – often for several days after the fact. Getting plenty of restful sleep allows your brain to process the activities of the day and clean the slate so you’re ready to go for the next day. Encourage your loved one to get the rest that they need for better brain balance. A calming routine towards the end of the day that includes quiet activities such as playing cards or reading will help everyone slow down for a good night’s sleep.
Take Your Supplements
Millions of people across the U.S. prefer to use natural options instead of going the prescription medication route. While the evidence linking these natural supplements with improvement in symptoms is slim at the very best, there may be some benefits for your loved one who is suffering from dementia. Supplements to try include:
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids are thought to improve brain health and cognition by reducing overall inflammation in the brain.
- Vitamin D in high doses from 1000-5000 IU a day may benefit your brain.
- Bacopa Monnieri, commonly known as water hyssop, is an herb that has shown promising results after a 2006 study where participants ingested the supplement two times each day for 12 weeks. In addition to boosting memory, it has also been used for anxiety and ADHD treatment.
- Turmeric is a so-called “wonder drug” that brings a wealth of health benefits to the body and may help clean plaque from the brain.
- Ginkgo biloba supplements have long been used for their anti-aging properties that not only improve circulation throughout the body but also boost memory naturally.
- Ginseng is another option that has been used for centuries in Asian cultures to reduce the damage of aging on the body. Panax ginseng is thought to reduce cognitive impairment and has been shown to have various neuroprotective effects.
Together, these natural treatments may help your loved one feel better and stronger while improving their overall cognition. Between adequate rest, positive nutrition habits, light exercise, and various supplements you may be able to reduce the effect of dementia on your loved one, or at least slow the progress of the disease. Learn more about taking care of aging family members and friends on SeniorCaregiverAlliance.org. You’ll find excellent resources and a community of like-minded individuals.