June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month. Today’s post will review a study of using acupuncture for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia, and is a degenerative brain disease. It is estimated that nearly 6 million Americans have AD. According to the CDC it is the 5th most common cause of death among adults age 65 and older. Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease include mild memory loss, and may progress to changes in mood and behavior, and difficulty with performing familiar tasks. The annual costs of AD are estimated to be $200 billion. Age is the most important risk factor for AD. Unfortunately, at this time there are no effective medical treatments to stop or reverse AD.
A research group in China performed a randomized trial, comparing the efficacy and safety of acupuncture to the medication donepezil (brand name Aricept) in a group of subjects diagnosed with mild to moderate AD. Subjects were aged 50 to 85 years. 43 individuals were assigned to the acupuncture group, while 44 were assigned to the donezepil group.
The study itself last 28 weeks- a 4 week baseline period, a 12 week treatment period, and a 12 week follow-up period. The acupuncture group received three treatments each week, lasting about 30 minutes each. The treatments were provided by 9 experienced acupuncturists, who individualized treatments to each respective subject.
There were two primary outcome measures, the ADAS-cog and the CIBIC-Plus. The ADAS-cog consists of 11 tasks to measure the symptoms of AD. The CIBIC-Plus on the other hand is a comprehensive global assessment of change in behavior, cognition and function, and requires separate interviews with the caregivers as well as the patients.
The results of the study demonstrated that acupuncture improved the participants score on the ADAS-cog and CIBIC-Plus, indicating improvement in cognitive function and global clinical status.
It is interesting that the study design used a known pharmaceutical treatment (donepezil) as the comparator group to acupuncture, rather than using sham (fake) acupuncture. There is evidence from many studies that sham acupuncture is not a true placebo, and often studies that use sham acupuncture show an elevated placebo response. It is also important to note that no one withdrew from the study due to an adverse side effect from acupuncture, which again points to the safety of this treatment.
A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Dementia can be devastating to a patient, and in some ways even more so to the patient’s caregivers, which are often family members. Given the results of this study perhaps acupuncture should be given some consideration as a additional treatment for this overwhelming disease.
“I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death. They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make. Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories. We find comfort in knowing our lives have been enriched by sharing their love.”– Leo Buscaglia
(Source- BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2017) 17:556)
This blog is a review of published medical and scientific literature, and should only be used for informational purposes. It does not constitute medical or health advice, nor does it create a physician-patient relationship with anyone. Discuss any health concerns with your personal physician.