Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Good News For Caregivers Up Against Alzheimer's

If you’re faced with the challenge of caring for a mother, father, or spouse with advancing Alzheimer’s disease, then you know just how heartbreaking and exhausting it can be.

The fact is, dementia presents a uniquely difficult and distressing set of circumstances. Whether it’s incoherent babbling, aggressive outbursts, or wandering during the night, your task as a caregiver can go from manageable to hopeless very quickly—

And sadly, finding effective ways to deal with these concerns and ensure the proper care of your loved one can be just as frustrating.

That’s why I’m happy to share some news that can offer you hope against this common struggle: According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine just this month, a traditional Chinese relaxation technique might be the answer you’ve been looking for.

Acupressure—a mix of “acupuncture” and “pressure”—is a type of massage that focuses on the various acupuncture points in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It’s non-invasive, and doesn’t require the use of drugs—and as this very recent study shows, it may offer a safe and effective solution for decreasing anxiety and agitation in dementia patients.

Researchers from National Yang-Ming University in Taipei followed the effects of acupressure on 133 institutionalized dementia patients for a total of four weeks. During this time, patients were given acupressure treatments six days a week, in order to examine its impact on agitated behaviors—as compared with the calming presence of a visitor, which served as this study’s control.

Results as the end of the four-week trial showed that daily acupressure significantly decreased overall agitation—including physically aggressive and physically non-aggressive behaviors (like pacing and wandering). Nurses’ aides involved in the study reported that ease of caregiving improved in a variety of areas—from assistance with eating, bathing, and grooming, to improvements in sleep.

The study authors’ conclusion? That “acupressure, coupled with a Western activities program, could be useful in caring for people with dementia, and that in-service training for formal caregivers in private and institutional settings would be beneficial.”

I could not agree more. Having devoted a significant portion of my career and clinical practice to the study and use of TCM, I can personally attest to its amazing value against a variety of very serious health concerns. All too often these methods—whether they take the form of acupressure, acupuncture, or well-crafted herbal formulas—are able to succeed where popular drugs fail. And as research continues on their use as part of a larger integrative protocol, I’m certain the mainstream will start to embrace them as well.

Until then, I like to take every opportunity I can to share these important findings with you—you can find more research on TCM by visiting my website at www.dreliaz.org.

Source: Lin LC, Yang MH, Kao CC, Wu SC, Tang SH, Lin JG. “Using acupressure and Montessori-based activities to decrease agitation for residents with dementia: a cross-over trial.” J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009 Jun;57(6):1022-9.

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