Acupuncture - Dementia and Alzheimers

Experiencing both of my parents dying with dementia has given me a special interest in how treatments and ways of managing it are developing. While my father only had the disease for a relatively short time, my mother endured it for 7 years, and I became an observer of the slow progression of this truly dreadful disease. My father died 16 years ago and my mother 6 years ago.

The sad fact is that there still aren't any good treatments.

More recently there is a growing body of evidence which is pointing to the fact that acupuncture may prove to have a role in the treatment, and possibly even prevention of dementia. It is still (very) early days and I am not saying that the case is at all proven yet, but it seems to me that there is “a lot of smoke for there not to be any fire”. Only time, funding and research will tell how significant these new findings are. Unfortunately funding for acupuncture is slow because there is no 'pot of gold' at the end e.g. for a drug company.

One new Taiwanese study published in 2017 looked at 11000 stroke patients - half of whom had acupuncture rehab. treatment after their stroke. It showed that about 23% less of the patients who got acupuncture went on to develop dementia in the following 5 years compared to those who didn't have the acupuncture. This is a big study by any standards and hopefully will generate interest & follow up studies. It is not a perfect study and for example did not exclude all other possibilities as to why some went on to develop the disease and others didn't (eg smokers/obesity etc.), but nonetheless it was otherwise a well conducted study and is very interesting. It was published in the BMJ (online edition)¹.

Other studies in the links below are showing that acupuncture can help with Cognitive function tests in dementia patients, ADL (activities of daily Living) scores can be improved and further research is pointing to possible mechanisms how acupuncture might help e.g. Blood flow to the brain, glutamatergic neurotransmission & various other measurable blood chemistry parameters.

While it will probably take another decade or longer to 'prove' (or disprove) the case for acupuncture in the treatment of dementia I believe that when the currently available facts on how acupuncture may help are added to it's efficacy in treating depression and anxiety (which often accompany dementia) there can be a good case to use acupuncture now, in some limited* circumstances. It is widely used in China today.

For more research information and articles on see below.

Acupuncture and Vascular Dementia/Alzheimers, Research summary.

1) 2017 BMJ published article showing less risk of dementia developing post stroke (non-haem type), if patients have acupuncture. Based on 11000 Taiwanese Health Insurance clients. They appeared to be 23.4% less likely to develop dementia if they had acupuncture as stroke rehab. Looks like good quality study with huge numbers. Follow up was over 5 years.

2) 2015 Good study with control group etc.- shows improves cog Fn & Activities of daily living.
ScientificWorld Journal. 68 patients, randomised. “adding acupuncture to routine care may have beneficial effects on the improvements of cognitive status and activities of daily living”.

3) Research on acupuncture on 60 VaD patients. 2006. Neurol. Res.
Results showed improvement in memory, daily living activity etc.
“Acupuncture had significant therapeutic effects and well tolerated in ameliorate the key clinical symptoms of VaD.”

4)"Acupuncture Modulates Resting State Hippocampal Functional Connectivity in Alzheimer Disease"  An FMRI analysis of brain activity in Alzheimers patients after acupuncture on Hegu (hand) and Taichong (foot) points were acupunctured. Brain activity was more normal after the acupuncture.

5) Abstract on work on how acup helps VaD in animal studies. 2017
Many ways;  protecting cerebral neurons from oxidative stress, apoptosis, and neuroinflammation, regulating glucose metabolism and neurotransmitters

6) The Neuroprotective Role of Acupuncture and Activation of the BDNF Signaling Pathway.
“acupuncture can inhibit neurodegeneration via expression and activation of BDNF. Moreover it can increase ATP levels at local stimulated points” - animal studies. 2014 Intl. J Mol Sce.

7) Electroacupuncture at Du20; study in Mice with 'Alzheimers'. 2016.
“ In the present study, EA at Du20 (an acupuncture point on the top of the head) was observed to reverse the cognitive impairments in APP/PS1 transgenic mice via modulation of BDNF expression and processing” the study concluded “... acupuncture may exert neuroprotective effects by modulating the expression and processing of BDNF. These results suggest thst Electroacupuncture at DU20 may serve as a promising strategy for Alzheimers Disease”

8) 2016 updated Meta analysis of studies treating non dementia Vasc impairment in 1150 patients -

9) Acupuncture improves cerebral blood flow etc in rats

10) Acupuncture method influences cerebral bloodflow and BP – humans.
Study shows that different acupuncture techniques can differently modulate cerebral blood flow velocity, blood pressure and heart rate in humans.

11) Cerebral Blood flow (CBF) in rats effect of acupuncture Japanese study.
Study in anaesthetised rats shows how acupuncture stimulating different points can either raise or lower cerebral blood flow.

12) Post stroke cognitive improvement after acupuncture meta analysis

13) Acupuncture effects shown by colour Doppler imaging

14) Blood flow along uterine artery improved by EA (electro acup) – Stener Vict. Fertility trial.

15) EA (electro acup) acutely improves cerebral blood flow in mice. Stroke treatment possibilities etc.

16) Meta analysis on acupuncture in 2013 with 691 patients but poor quality trials. Shows acup works...but not good enough evidence yet to prove. “In conclusion acupuncture appears to be beneficial for the management of cognitive and memory function in patients with VMCI...”

17) 2012 attempt to do metaanalysis that couldn't find any good trials

18) 2007 attempt to do metaanalysis that couldn't find any good trials

19)"Acupuncture for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: a randomized controlled trial." This study concludes...Acupuncture is safe, well tolerated and effective in improving the cognitive function, global clinical status of AD.

20)" The Effects of Acupuncture on Glutamatergic Neurotransmission in Depression, Anxiety, Schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's Disease: A Review of the Literature." This study looks at the possible mechanism of acupuncture in the treatment of AD & other diseases.

21)”Clinical observation of Alzheimer's disease treated with acupuncture” This trial with about 140 patients demonstrates the the effects of acupuncture were better than those of Aricept (Donepezil).

Other articles of interest

1A) HealthCMi article: Acupuncture reduces Alzheimers disease brain Plaques (mice).

2A) Treating alzheimers symptoms with acupuncture

3A) Does acupuncture help with vascular dementia – Home Instead blog.

4A) British Acupuncture Council article – "Acupuncture for dementia"

5A) Drugs for Alzheimers disease – Are they effective?

6A) Book by professor of neuropsychology Texas University “Alzheimers turning point” discusses the focus of research and the Drug companies influence etc. See esp. Pages 142/143 where he argues that the focus of research is being incorrectly influenced by the drug companies and is failing to adequately look at the vascular implications and treatment possibilities etc.