National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)

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5 Things To Know About Complementary Health Practices for Cognitive Function, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease

Many people, particularly older individuals, worry about forgetfulness and whether it is the first sign of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. In fact, forgetfulness has many causes. It can also be a normal part of aging, or related to various treatable health issues or to emotional problems, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. The National Institute on Aging has a lot of information on the aging brain as well as cognitive function, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Although no treatment is proven to stop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, some conventional drugs may limit worsening of symptoms for a period of time in the early stages of the disease.

Many dietary supplements are marketed with claims that they enhance memory or improve brain function and health. To date, research has yielded no convincing evidence that any dietary supplement can reverse or slow the progression of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Additional research on dietary supplements, as well as several mind and body practices such as music therapy and mental imagery, which have shown promise in basic research or preliminary clinical studies, is underway.

Here are 5 things to know about current research on complementary health approaches for cognitive function, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

  1. To date there is no convincing evidence from a large body of research that any dietary supplement can prevent worsening of cognitive impairment associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This includes studies of ginkgo, omega-3 fatty acids/fish oil, vitamins B and E, Asian ginseng, grape seed extract, and curcumin. Additional research on some of these supplements is underway.
      
  2. Preliminary studies of some mind and body practices such as music therapy suggest they may be helpful for some of the symptoms related to dementia, such as agitation and depression. Several studies on music therapy in people with Alzheimer’s disease have shown improvement in agitation, depression, and quality of life.
      
  3. Mindfulness-based stress reduction programs may be helpful in reducing stress among caregivers of patients with dementia. To reduce caregiver stress, studies suggest that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program is more helpful for improving mental health than attending an education and support program or just taking time off from providing care.
      
  4. Don’t use complementary health approaches as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about memory loss. Treatable conditions, such as depression, bad reactions to medications, or thyroid, liver, or kidney problems, can impair memory.
      
  5. Some complementary health approaches interact with medications and can have serious side effects. If you are considering replacing conventional medications with other approaches, talk to your health care provider.