Dementia - Acupuncture can help

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Millwoods Acupuncture Center
102, 2603 Hewes Way
Edmonton AB,   Canada

Phone: (780) 466-8683






Dementia is a brain disorder that seriously affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities.

There are several kinds of dementia. Alzheimer's disease (AD, also called senile dementia) is the most common form of it among older people. It involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. Approximately 4.5 million Americans have this disease. 

AD usually begins after age 60, and risk goes up with age. About 3 percent of men and women ages 65 to 74 have AD, and nearly half of those age 85 and older may have the disease. It is important to note, however, that AD is not a normal part of aging.

The course the disease takes and how fast changes occur vary from person to person. On an average, AD patients live from 8 to 10 years after they are diagnosed, though the disease can last for as many as 20 years.

AD begins slowly. At first, the only symptom may be mild forgetfulness. People with AD may have trouble remembering recent events, activities, or the names of familiar people or things. Simple math problems may become hard to solve. Such difficulties may be a bother, but usually they are not serious enough to cause alarm. However, as the disease goes on, symptoms are more easily noticed and become serious enough to cause people with AD or their family members to seek medical help. For example, people in the later stages of AD may forget how to do simple tasks, like brushing their teeth or combing their hair. They can no longer think clearly. They begin to have problems speaking, understanding, reading, or writing. Later on, people with AD may become anxious or aggressive, or wander away from home. Eventually, patients need total care.

Today, the only definite way to diagnose AD is to find out whether there are plaques and tangles in brain tissue.

To look at brain tissue, doctors must wait until they do an autopsy, which is an examination of the body done after a person dies. Therefore, doctors must make a diagnosis of "possible" or "probable" AD.

Treatment by conventional medicine

No treatment can stop AD with conventional medicine.

 However, for some people in the early and middle stages of the disease, the drugs tacrine (Cognex), donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), or galantamine (Reminyl) may help prevent some symptoms from becoming worse for a limited time. Also, some medicines may help control behavioral symptoms of AD such as sleeplessness, agitation, wandering, anxiety, and depression. Treating these symptoms often makes patients more comfortable and makes their care easier for caregivers.

The fifth approved medication, known as Namenda® (memantine), is an N-methyl D-aspartate (NMDA) antagonist. It is prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe AD. Studies have shown that the main effect of Namenda® is to delay progression of some of the symptoms of moderate to severe AD. The medication may allow patients to maintain certain daily functions a little longer. For example, Namenda® may help a patient in the later stages of AD maintain his or her ability to go to the bathroom independently for several more months, a benefit for both patients and caregivers.

(Data source:, cited Feb.24, 2004)


How dementia treatment by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

In TCM, dementia is treated with Chinese herbal therapy and/or acupuncture.

Herbal therapy 

TCM believes dementia is caused by emotional disorders which affect the function of liver, kidney, spleen and heart systems[1]. The functional disorders of these systems eventually cause accumulation of phlegm[2] and stagnation of blood in the brain. Based on this theory, Chinese doctors use herbs or acupuncture to correct the functional disorders, clean the pathological “phlegm” and promote blood circulation in the brain.

In one study, 53 senile dementia patients were treated with herbal therapy (treatment group), and another 51 patients were treated with Nimodipine. The herbal therapy dramatically improved the clinic symptoms in 40% patients in the herbal treatment group, while there is only 25% of patients in the control group were dramatically improved. (Data source: Shanxi Journal of TCM 2003;23(8):703-704).


Hierarchic Dementia Scale (HDS) is a measure of cognitive function of people. It is reduced in patients with dementia. After the herbal therapy, the average HDS increased from 16.36 to 25.36, while it increased from 17.34 to only 20.67 in the control group. 

More reports on the efficiency of herbal therapy on senile dementia:

Hydergine is reported having no vaso-constrictive effects. This agent enhances the sensitivity of neural receptors. It has been labeled by the FDA for use in treating the symptoms of an idiopathic decline in mental capacity not related to a potentially reversible condition.

Clinic study in comparison between herbal therapy and hydergine suggests that herbal therapy may give more benefit to patients with senile dementia:


Various herbal formula are available for the treatment of senile dementia. The clinic effects of the herbal therapies are variable but the overall effect is encouraging.



(1). So far, TCM is the best choice for the treatment of dementia. Try TCM first before trying any conventional medicine for the treatment. Detailed diagnosis of the types of dementia with conventional medicine does not mean promising healing hope.

(2). Herbal therapy is the most effective means for the treatment of dementia, though additional acupuncture or other TCM therapies will in deed speed up the healing process.

(3). The aim of the treatment is to much improve the clinic manifestations of patients, so that he/she could handle his/her daily life without extensive help from others. Cure is hard goal[3].

[1] Here we means the organ systems, not just the organ. It bears different meaning from conventional medicine!

[2] Phlegm here is a broad concept in TCM. It not only means the phlegm that you cough out of you lung. In TCM, phlegm is a kind of pathological mass that can move and go within the body anyway causing various disorders.

[3] There is one clinic report using a herbal pill for the treatment of dementia that yielded complete cure of all patients (n=12). The herb pill has been taken continuously for 3 to 5 months.