What are the main alternatives to treat dementia or Alzheimer's Disease ?
The list here includes most of the main options but does not say what works and doesn't. Many may be used in combination. Most herbal and alternative therapies have not really been tested in the same rigorous way that medicines have.
Our aim is to try to help people who are taking medication (or should be) get the right medicine, dose and take it regularly for as long as is right. Any medicines should usually be part of the overall treatment, although some people are quite happy just to stick with drugs or talking treatments. If your medicines are right, then everything else can fall into place. If the medicines are wrong, then they may make the symptoms worse and self-help will not be as useful.
- Keeping the brain as active as possible ("use it or lose it" as they say)
- Taking any medicines regularly and reliably
- Eating healthily and taking exercise (“exercise to energise”) or being active. There is evidence that physical activity and exercise slightly improves thinking and memory over several years. The exercise can stimulate the growth of new brain cells and help the brain protect itself.
- Moderate social drinking can be beneficial (up to two drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women). Heavy drinking (more than 3 to 5 drinks per day) has a higher risk of dementia and damaging thinking processes. This comes in 2011 from an analysis of 143 studies, although the authors said "We don't recommend that non-drinkers start drinking, but moderate drinking - if it is truly moderate - can be beneficial."
Help from others
Some "psychosocial interventions" such as talking therapies can be very helpful to both patients and their families and carers. This can include the later stages of dementia. Some of these are included below:
- Social support
- Family support
- OT, physiotherapy, general care and support
- Alternative therapies such as aromatherapy, hypnosis, hypnotherapy, homeopathy (click for a review of the 25 studies in mental health by Davidson 2011) (treating like with like) or acupuncture can be used with (but not instead of) conventional treatments. The evidence for these treatments is not very good. All of these can be used in conjunction with other therapies. If they work then that is fine and we wouldn’t knock them. Gingko Biloba may be useful. Click here for a balanced review of complementary and alternative therapies from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (e.g. Ginkgo, Sage, vitamins, other herbals etc, and some useful links).
- ‘Person Centred Care' means trying to understand the whole person to get the right care e.g. seeing the person as a person (not just someone with dementia), what they think, caring in the right place, and allowing the person to live as good life as possible. This would include comfort, being part of a group, being kept busy and feeling an individual. This can include:
- Life Story Work uses the person's life history to help them today e.g. their family, childhood, working life, major life events, interests and later life.
- Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) is something NICE says can help people with mild to moderate dementia. It usually has 14 sessions and aims to find things to stimulate the person's mind. Please ask our older people's mental health service for further information.
- "Assistive Technology" uses devices and technology to help the person survive e.g. they can range from diaries and date clocks through to electronic paging devices. For more information see AT Dementia, or contact our local Alzheimer's society.
- Reminiscence therapy looks at old photographs or videos or items from their personal life or social history to help keep the brain active.