Alternative Treatments for Dementia

Written by Wendy Leonard, MPH | Published on July 15, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, M on July 15, 2014

Alternative Treatments for Dementia

Many patients find that alternative and complimentary medicine helps ease their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. However, many alternative therapies have not been fully studied. So, before trying any alternative treatment for dementia, talk to your doctor. Some vitamin and herbal supplements may interact with medications you are taking.

Ginkgo Biloba

The best-known alternative treatment for dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease (AD), is the herb Ginkgo biloba. It is usually called simply “ginkgo.” Many studies have been done on gingko’s effectiveness in treating dementia. Some studies have shown benefit. Others have not. Talk to your doctor about whether it makes sense for you to try.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has published the following precautions concerning taking ginkgo:

  • Side effects of ginkgo may include headache, nausea, gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, dizziness, or allergic skin reactions. More severe allergic reactions have occasionally been reported.
  • There are some data to suggest that ginkgo can increase bleeding risk. People who take anticoagulant drugs, have bleeding disorders, or have scheduled surgery or dental procedures should use caution and talk to a health-care provider if using ginkgo.
  • Fresh (raw) ginkgo seeds contain large amounts of a chemical called ginkgotoxin, which can cause serious adverse reactions—even seizures and death. Roasted seeds can also be dangerous. Products made from standardized ginkgo leaf extracts contain little ginkgotoxin and appear to be safe when taken orally.

If you are considering trying gingko as a treatment for dementia, talk to your doctor first. It may have benefits, but you want to avoid any adverse reactions.

Some other popular alternative treatments for dementia include the following:

Vitamin E

Similar to gingko, some studies have shown vitamin E to be effective in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies have shown no effect. In high doses, vitamin E can increase your risk of bleeding disorders. Talk to your doctor before taking vitamin E supplements, especially if you take any blood-thinning medications (such as aspirin).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and cognitive decline. They may also reduce symptoms of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold-water fatty fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel. The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of these fish per week. In lesser amounts, omega-3s are found in English walnuts, flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.

Talk to your doctor before taking supplements of omega-3 fatty acids. In high doses, they can increase your risk of bleeding, especially if you are taking any blood-thinning medications.

Huperzine A

Huperzine A is made from Chinese club moss. It appears to work in the same way as pharmaceutical cholinesterase inhibitors (such as donepezil/Aricept).  However, present available scientific evidence does not support the routine use of Huperzine. Talk to your doctor before trying this alternative treatment. Do not take it if you take a cholinesterase inhibitor.

Relaxation Techniques

Anxiety and depression often accompany dementia. Furthermore, other symptoms of dementia may be worse when you feel anxious or stressed. The following relaxation techniques might help:

  • music therapy
  • aromatherapy
  • massage therapy
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