Misplacing your keys or forgetting a colleague’s name occasionally? That may be worrisome, but it’s pretty normal. People with dementia might forget a friend’s name, but also how they know the person. Also, they find it hard to understand words, solve problems, and think abstractly. Eventually, dementia can progress to the point of derailing simple tasks like getting dressed.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 5.5 million Americans, but there are more than 60 types. Dementia is medically incurable; some drugs help the symptoms, but do not stop the course of the condition. Many natural remedies look promising, though.
Reduced blood flow to the brain is quite common in the elderly, and manifests as depression, memory loss, decreased alertness, and headaches. Ginkgo improves circulation to the brain by increasing the tone and elasticity of the blood vessels. A 2011 study from Johns Hopkins University, enrolling 9 elderly, healthy men, found that 120 mg of ginkgo extract per day for four weeks bumped up cerebral blood flow significantly. A review study, published in Pharmacopsychiatry, concluded that ginkgo is beneficial for dementia if taken for 6 months. Recent research compared it to a leading Alzheimer’s drug (donepezil, Aricept), and determined that it was comparable to the drug for dementia symptoms.
Vinpocetine is an extract from periwinkle, reported to increase cerebral blood flow and protect the nerve cells. It is used as a drug for age-related memory impairment in Europe. Vinpocetine is a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Research looks promising for use in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, although studies are as yet inconclusive. Start with 2–5 mg of vinpocetine with meals, then increase the dosage to 10–40 mg a day as effective and comfortable.
Curcumin, the main active ingredient in the spice turmeric, is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that inhibits formation of beta-amyloid (plaques found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s), and assists in its removal from the body. Research has demonstrated improvements in memory in Alzheimer’s patients taking curcumin. Curcumin is available as a supplement, and it never hurts to use turmeric liberally as a spice, for example in Indian curries. And consider taking it with vitamin D; according to recent studies, vitamin D and curcumin may work synergistically to clear beta-amyloid.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine is an amino acid that can act as an a powerful antioxidant, helping to prevent deterioration of brain cells and increase circulation. Preliminary research for use in Alzheimer’s disease looks promising. A 2011 animal study determined that it reduced memory deficits. Use 1 to 3 gm per day.
Derived from soybeans, phosphatidylserine is an amino acid that the FDA allows to bear the claim, “Consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly.” Most clinicians recommend a dose of 600 mg per day.