Dementia is due to damage of the brain caused by many diseases. The symptoms of dementia are memory loss, communication problem, behaviour changing and having difficulty of everyday life. For example, you may forget what you said earlier in the day or where you put things etc. You may be having difficulty to recognise persons you are familiar with or unable to find familiar places etc. You may find it difficult to communicate with others and feel depressed etc. The symptoms might be different depending on individual, but generally the symptoms are getting worse over time.
Dementia is due to damage of brain, which is caused by many diseases. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a most common form of dementia, which accounted for 70% of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is degenerative which is caused by losing brain cells in the cerebral cortex and some other regions of the brain. This loss leads to shrink of the affected regions causing the symptoms mentioned above. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the most important at risk state of AD which is a transition stage of normal aging and dementia. It has a high probability of degenerating into AD at a rate of 10-15% per year. Unfortunately there is no effective treatment for AD and MCI.
Acupuncture is used in treating AD and MCI in China. Recently Wang Z et al studied the effect of acupuncture on brain functional activity throughout the entire brain in patients with AD and MCI and compared with normal controls. Participants were 14 patients with AD, 8 patients with MCI and 14 healthy controls. At the resting state, in patients with MCI, there were increased activities in the brain regions of the temporal lobe, frontal lobe and left lentiform nuleus, while there were decreased activities in the regions of right cingulated gyrus and left fusiform gyrus compared with normal controls. In patients with AD, there were decreased activities in left temporal lobe and left middle frontal gyrus. Then data was taken during the process of acupuncture at points LI4 and LR3 bilaterally and 10 min after acupuncture treatments. They found that brain activities related to memory were altered during the acupuncture process and after the acupuncture treatment in patients with AD or MCI compared with the resting state. They found that acupuncture regulates brain activity bilaterally in patients with MCI which is it activates the regions with decreased activities in the resting state, while it deactivates the regions with increased activities in the resting state. In patients with AD it also showed increased or decreased regions of activities. They confirmed that the two points used for acupuncture can contribute to activate certain memory-related regions in patients with AD and MCI.
Zhou J and Jin J also showed that acupuncture at points HT7, ST36, ST40 and KI3 acupoints stimulated right main hemisphere activations (temporal lobe, such as hippocampal gyrus, insula, and some area of parietal lobe) and left activated regions (temporal lobe, parietal lobule, some regions of cerebellum). These activations by the acupuncture on these points were on the impaired regions in patients with AD, which closely associated with cognitive function such as memory, language etc. These researches provided strong evidence for the effect of acupuncture on dementia.
A ten-minute memory test operated by a computer programme is available. This test is aimed to recognize early stage of dementia, which could tell the differences between normal forgetfulness and memory loss of dementia. Early diagnosis of dementia could spot patients before their brain were damaged and help them to get early treatment which could delay the progress of the disease. For dementia care information you can find at Alzheimers society website http://alzheimers.org.uk/caring_for_someone_with_dementia and at department of health website http://www.dh.gov.uk/health/category/policy-areas/social-care/dementia.
Vascular dementia is a second main cause of dementia. There were many case studies that reported the effectiveness of acupuncture on vascular dementia. Shi GX et al studied the effect of acupuncture on vascular dementia in 16 patients with vascular dementia. They found that acupuncture improved cognitive function and quality of life in patients with vascular dementia and acupuncture reduced oxidative damage in patients with vascular dementia. Zhang H et al conducted a randomized control trial to study effect of acupuncture for treatment of vascular dementia. 270 patients with vascular dementia were recruited and received 6 weeks acupuncture treatment. The acupuncture points used Sishencong EX-HN1, Baihui GV20, Shenting GV24 and Fengchi GB20. They found acupuncture improve cognitive function and quality life in patients with vascular dementia. The effect was better than that for Nimodipine on its own, but acupuncture together with Nimodipine had better effect than acupuncture alone. Huang Y et al found that stimulating acupoints improves various brain area functions and this contributes to the improvement of cognition function, memory and daily life quality etc.
Acupuncture help sleep in patients with dementia
Elderly with dementia often have sleep problems. Recently there was a study investigating the effectiveness of acupuncture on sleep quality of elderly with dementia. There were 19 patients with dementia participated the study. These patients were followed through a control period for 6 weeks and an acupuncture treatment for 6 weeks. Sleep quality and congnitive function were measured and compared before and after the treatments period. The results showed that resting time and total sleep time in acupuncture treatment period significantly more than those in the control period. Improvement in congnitive function was not significantly different between the two periods. This study suggests that acupuncture was effective in improving some domain of sleep quality of patients with dementia and acupuncture was an acceptable intervention for these patients.
Acupuncture reduces oxidative stress of the cells
Oxidative stress is a sign of the imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species and detoxification of the antioxidant system. As a result, this causes cell function damage and diseases. Oxidative stress is a critical feature in the pathological process of various diseases such as vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Recent research from last 5 years has shown that acupuncture treatment could decrease oxidative stress of the body and increase antioxidant system ability. Because of this acupuncture could improve memory impairment in vascular dementia and Alzerimer’s disease and reduce brain damage. Increased oxidative stress and depletion of the antioxidant are important mechanisms of the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease. Acupuncture could reduce oxidative stress, inhibit cell death in the neurons and protect neurons improving motor function.
Wang Z et al PloS One (2012) 7:e42730
Zhou J and Jin J Acupunct Electrother Res (2008) 33:9-17
Shi GX et al J Tradit Chin Med (2012) 32:199-202
Zhang H et al Zhongguo Zhen Jiu (2008) 28:783-7
Huang Y et al Chin J Integr Med (2007) 13:103-8
Kwok T et al Clin Interv Aging (2013) 8:923-9
Zeng XH et al Evid Based Complement Alternat Med (2014) 2014:483294