Potential treatment options are listed below in order from most effective to least effective, as determined by TeddyCanHeal's advanced software. Not every treatment will work for everyone, so talk to your doctor to determine what will be best for your individual needs. Many treatments may also be used in combination with one another or with medication.
Mindfulness meditation originated from Buddhist techniques and is one of the most widely practiced types of meditation. In its simplest form, mindfulness meditation has two main components: first, orienting one’s attention to what is happening in this exact moment; second, approaching what is happening in this moment with open-mindedness and acceptance. It is all about becoming more aware of the present and developing a non-judgmental attitude towards whatever may be happening. There is a great deal of focus on breathing and increasing awareness of one’s physical surroundings.
Meditation in general has been shown to lead to long-lasting changes in brain activity, and because of its popularity, mindfulness meditation in particular has attracted a lot of attention from researchers. It has been found to have a significant impact on the attentional systems of the brain, with neuroimaging studies showing improvement in the sections of the brain that influence attention, emotional regulation, and perception of bodily states. Other benefits include improved memory, cognitive flexibility, and overall mental fitness. Evidence of a neuroprotective effect has also emerged from many studies, which may be related to a reduction in oxidative stress. It is hypothesized that these beneficial effects are achieved by exercising the brain in an unusual way, helping to build up areas that may have deteriorated otherwise.
Mindfulness meditation is easy to do and could be a great non-pharmacological treatment for those suffering from dementia. Its calming, stress-reducing nature can also be of benefit to caregivers.
Researchers were looking into using mindfulness meditation to help dementia as early as the 1980s. A study published in 1989 looked at the impact of a variety of mental exercises and techniques, including mindfulness meditation, on age-related cognitive decline. Those who took up mindfulness meditation showed improvements in learning capabilities, cognitive and behavioral flexibility, and overall mental health. Additionally, the mindfulness group improved more than any other in verbal communication. Patients practicing meditation also had a better survival rate than those in the other groups.
In 2005, researchers used MRIs to examine the impact of insight meditation, a subset of mindfulness meditation, on the thickness and health of various parts of the brain. They found that those who practiced meditation had increased thickness in regions associated with attention and sensory processing compared to those who did not. The difference was particularly notable among the elderly, and the authors postulated that meditation could be a useful tool in helping to offset age-related declines.
Qigong (pronounced “chi goong” or “chi kung”) is a traditional Chinese exercise that originated as a martial art and is now widely practiced for its health benefits. The term is derived from the words “Qi”, which means “vital energy”, and “gong”, which means “exercise” or “practice”. Its history goes back thousands of years, and today there are a variety of different forms and styles being practiced.
Qigong has both a physical and a mental aspect, combining sequences of flowing movements with changes in breathing and an emphasis on relaxation and meditation. Qigong and its close relative Tai Chi have been shown to provide numerous physical and mental benefits. Physical benefits include lowered blood pressure, improved immune response, higher bone density, and better heart health. It may also benefit those with arthritis. Mental benefits include lower stress, anxiety, and depression, and increased relaxation and attentiveness. This relaxation component may be especially beneficial for those who are experiencing emotional and behavioral issues tied to dementia. Additionally, the repetition involved in going through the movements of Qigong is also thought to strengthen memory, and its meditative component may convey some of the same benefits discussed in the previous section.
Qigong is a slow, gentle, low-impact exercise and can even be performed in a sitting position, making it suitable for a variety of ages and levels of mobility. The movements can easily be adapted to suit an individual’s needs, and patients are free to move at their own pace. It is an activity that lends itself to being done in a group, which could offer social benefits as well. Qigong is a promising non-pharmacological solution for those with dementia.
In 2008, researchers investigated the cognitive, physical, and behavioral effects of a combination of Tai Chi (which incorporated elements of Qigong), cognitive behavioral therapy, and a support group on elderly patients with early-stage dementia. They noted improvements in mental capabilities, self-esteem, balance, physical health, and depression following the treatment. Other studies have found that Tai Chi can improve cognitive function, as well as helping those with Parkinson’s develop better balance and coordination. The authors of a 2013 review paper on the subject suggest that Tai Chi and/or Qigong could be effective non-drug interventions for a variety of mental issues, including cognitive impairment.
Pranayama is one of the eight “aspects” of yoga, and focuses on control of the breath. In yogic philosophy, the breath is seen as a life force, and pranayama is a method used to harness it. Like other aspects of yoga, pranayama helps to relieve stress and promote relaxation. It is also believed to offer various neurological benefits, including improved brain function. The cause of such improvement is not fully understood, but it has been suggested that the benefit comes from “exercising” the brain in unconventional ways, leading to the strengthening of neural circuits.
Like Qigong, pranayama can be practiced in groups and customized to suit a patient’s individual needs. Because it is essentially just a collection of breathing exercises, there are no special items required to do it, and even those with severe mobility issues can participate.
A 2017 study investigated the effects of pranayama and yoga on cognitive decline in elderly people with type 2 diabetes. Following six months of treatment, they found reduced glycemic values as well as improved performance on cognitive tests. The researchers concluded their work by saying that pranayama and yoga could be useful non-drug therapies for elderly diabetics suffering from cognitive decline.