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Taking a Holistic Approach to Alzheimer's Disease

By Betsy Lee-Frye

Updated July 01, 2008

(LifeWire) - Treating Alzheimer's disease needn't just revolve around medications and nursing home care. Many experts recommend a holistic approach to this progressive disease.

What's Holistic Care?

Though some might think the name carries connotations of being too "touchy-feely," holistic care simply means addressing all aspects -- body, mind, and spirit -- of the person. A holistic approach links mainstream medical treatments with both herbal supplements and attention to emotional health.

The American Holistic Medical Association's website provides a free physician finder service. People outside of major cities, though, might have some difficulties locating a holistic practitioner. People with Alzheimer's and their families can still incorporate a holistic approach into their care routine -- it'll just take more work and ingenuity.

Holistic Approaches to Alzheimer's Disease Care

Because Alzheimer's disease is incurable and progressive, most holistic treatments focus on enhancing the person's quality of life; for example, some might suggest using "memory books" and other strategies to reduce the impact of symptoms. A Florida State University researcher found memory books, which might include notes, photos and other keepsakes, can help reconnect Alzheimer's indiviuals with their loved ones.

Although the research on holistic approaches remains limited, it suggests everything from pet therapy to art therapy can improve quality of life for those with Alzheimer's. A 2006 study, for example, reported older people with dementia showed less agitation and had more positive social interactions when they interacted with an animal daily; however, the duration of the benefit was not established, nor was it proven that an animal living with the individuals had more impact than a visiting animal.

A holistic approach can also include the use of herbs and supplements, such as Ginkgo biloba and omega-3 fatty acids. Though there's considerable evidence for the benefits of ginkgo biloba, in general, more research is needed in this area. For additional information on herbal and alternative medicine, see the discussion of alternative treatments on the Alzheimer's Association website.


"Alternative Treatments." ALZ.org. 26 Nov. 2007. Alzheimer's Association. 26 May 2008. <www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_alternative_treatments.asp>.

Bourgeois, Michelle. "History of Memory Books." Department of Communication Disorders: Research Lab and Caregiver Resources. 2007. Florida State University. 23 May 2008 <comm2.fsu.edu/faculty/commdis/bourgeois/memorybook.html#memorybooks>.

"Frequently Asked Questions." Holisticmedicine.org. 2008. American Holistic Medical Association. 26 May 2008 <www.holisticmedicine.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=5#Medicine>.

McCade, B.W., M.M. Baun, D. Speich and S. Agrawal. "Resident Dog in the Alzheimer's Special Care Unit." Western Journal of Nursing Research 24. 6. OCT 2002 684-696. 26 May 2008 <http://wjn.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/24/6/684>. (subscription)

Richeson, Nancy. "Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on Agitated Behaviors and Social Interactions of Older Adults with Dementia." American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias 18. 6. 2003 353-358. 26 May 2008 <aja.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/18/6/353>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Betsy Lee-Frye is an independent journalist living in Kansas City, Mo. Her work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications and Kansas City Magazine.

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