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.
Yoga began in India as early as 5,000 years ago and is now practiced worldwide for its physical and mental benefits. The range of benefits it is said to offer is wide, and includes emotional and cognitive benefits for those with dementia.
Yoga emphasizes relaxation, meditation, and the connection between mind and body. Its calming effects may be especially beneficial for those who are struggling with the emotional and behavioral aspects of dementia, but all can benefit from its stress-relieving properties – including dementia caregivers. Since it is commonly practiced in groups, yoga can also provide a chance for socialization, and a method of physical communication in persons who often have trouble communicating verbally.
There are thought to be deeper benefits to yoga as well. The repetition of various poses and motions helps improve memory, and the meditative component exercises the brain in an unusual way that is thought to help build neural circuits and strengthen cognition. Additionally, yoga has been shown to reduce inflammation, which can be of benefit to those suffering from dementia.
Typical yoga practice will involve a variety of poses, but cobra pose (more formally known as bhujangasana) and triangle pose (trikonasana) are among those recommended specifically for those suffering from dementia. Other poses to try are camel pose, lion pose, palm tree pose, boat pose, fish pose, mountain pose, half-moon pose, and locust pose. Some of these poses may be difficult for those with mobility problems, so yoga may not be the best choice for everyone. See the sections of mindfulness meditation and pranayama if you are interested in a yogic or meditative technique that does not require much mobility or physical activity.
A study published in 2011 looked at the impact of yoga on physical and mental health in elderly dementia patients living in care homes. Overall improvements were noted in both physical and mental health for those who practiced yoga versus those who did not. Benefits included lower blood pressure, improvements in flexibility, muscle strength, balance, and joints, as well as a reduction in depression and behavioral issues. Similar research conducted two years later focused on cognitive function more generally. After six months, those practicing yoga showed improvements in several aspects of memory as well as attention, executive function, and processing speed compared to a control group.
A 2017 study investigated the effects of yoga and pranayama 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.
Omega-3 fatty acids are believed to offer multiple benefits for cognitive health, and may help delay age-related cognitive decline. An omega-3 known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is generally credited as being the most beneficial.
DHA is a key building block in the brain and is involved in a variety of cellular functions. Some research suggests that adding DHA to the diet can reduce the risk of developing dementia, and for those who already have dementia or another form of cognitive impairment, it can improve memory and brain function. However, there is still disagreement over how beneficial DHA – and omega-3s in general – are for treating dementia.
One common source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish oil. Fish oil can be obtained either by eating fish itself or by taking it in supplement form. If you are looking to add fish to your diet directly, cod liver, mackerel, herring, tuna, salmon, all contain large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish oil is safe to take in small doses (less than 3g per day), though in some cases it may cause minor gastrointestinal upset. In addition to treating dementia, fish oil also conveys benefits for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression. If supplementation is coming in the form of actual fish in the diet, limit the amount of fish that you are getting each week, especially because fatty fish can contain toxins such as mercury. It is unclear how fish oil supplements interact with fish allergies, so take supplements with caution if you have such an allergy.
Most of the research done to date on fish oil and dementia has focused on its ability to ward off the syndrome or fight it in its early stages. A 2006 paper reports that adding docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to the diet could significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia. More specifically, it was reported that consuming 2.7 servings of fish per week (or a 1g fish oil capsule each day) results in around a 50% decrease in likelihood of developing the syndrome.
In 2007, another study looked at the relationship between dementia/Alzheimer’s and diet in general. Among other things, the researchers reported that frequent consumption of omega-3 oils and fish appeared to decrease the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, especially among certain genetic groups.
Not all of the work that has been done with fish oil has focused solely on prevention. In 2013, researchers investigated the effectiveness of using fish oil supplements to treat mild cognitive impairment in the elderly. Those taking fish oil showed improvements in several measures of memory with minimal side-effects.