Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative disease in which the communication between brain cells begins to lose. Due to this, not only the memory power starts weakening but gradually other functions of the brain also become weak.
This disease was identified about 100 years ago by Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a famous German psychiatrist and neuropathologist. Hence, this disease was named after him.
Alzheimer’s disease is becoming a common disease of old age.
In a large proportion of cases, Alzheimer’s disease is related to genetics, i.e., it tends to run in families. Some theories suggest that metals such as zinc, copper, iron, or aluminum may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
In Alzheimer’s disease, certain regions of the brain begin to shrink over time. A protein called amyloid plaque starts appearing around the brain cells. In addition, tau protein also gets deposited leading to Alzheimer’s disease. This disease is also seen to start due to reduction of the levels of neurotransmitter acetylcholine and other brain chemicals in the brain.
The memory of patients with Alzheimer’s disease gradually weakens.
Forgetting things said or events that happened some time ago is considered to be an important symptom of this disease, but most of the people remember old things. Lack of ability to understand new things, repeating things and asking the same things again and again, changes in behavior and understanding, inability to recognize faces and objects, difficulty in reading, difficulty in speaking, difficulty in finding places, change in handwriting are the other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
These patients can commonly present with psychiatric symptoms as well, including irritability, aggression, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, suspiciousness, hallucinations, depression, and change in sexual drive.
In later stages, the patients are not even able to take care of themselves independently and need assistance from others to carry out their daily activities.
Management of Alzheimer’s Disease
Role of Ayurveda
According to Ayurvedic sciences, Rasayan protects one from the ill effects of ageing. Medhya Rasayan and Achar Rasayan (Sadvyavar) are used in Alzheimer’s disease. Maharishi Charak has mentioned 4 herbal medicines which can be useful, viz. Guduchi, Mandukaparni, Yashtimadhu and Shankhpushpi.
Apart from this, medicines like Smriti Sagar Ras, Brahmi Vati, Saraswatarishta, Ashwagandharishta, and Brahmarasayan can also be useful in consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner.
Turmeric is a useful herbal remedy to improve one’s memory and it also slows down the effects of ageing. A chemical called curcumin present in turmeric has a positive effect on brain cells. Turmeric milk should be drunk regularly at night.
Ashwagandha has anti-oxidant properties, which helps in protection from diseases related to old age, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Role of Panchakarma
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease are likely to get benefit from Snehana, Swedana, Brihan Basti, Shirodhara-Shirobasti (Mashadi and Mashbaladi oil) and Nasyakarma. Shirodhara and Nasya Kriyashould be performed for at least 21 days. Head massage (Shirobhyang) with Jyotishamati oil also improves memory.
For Shirodhara, Jyotishamati and Brahmi oil are used. For Nasya, Brihan Nasya like Anu oil, Panchendriyavardhan oil, or Shadbindu oil are used. In old age, putting two drops of cow’s ghee in the nose every day refreshes the brain, slows down the worsening of memory.
For non-vegetarians, consumption of fish can protect from Alzheimer’s disease to some extent. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish regulate numerous body processes, thereby slowing the progression of many diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in flax seed, which can be consumed regularly in old age and in case of Alzheimer’s disease. Consumption of olive oil and broccoli sharpens the brain. Magnesium, calcium, zinc and phosphorus are found in good quantities in broccoli, which can sharpen the brain. Also, eating almonds soaked at night and chewing them every morning improves memory power.
One should avoid consuming food items, such as sesame, cashew, tomato, pumpkin, basil, butter, cheese, fried food, jamfood, red meat, pastries, and sweets.
Importance of exercise
Physical activity and exercise have consistently been seen to have a wide-ranging positive effects on the body. Regular exercise for 30 minutes proves to be extremely beneficial in improving brain health.
Studies have shown that the practice of Bhastrika Pranayama has a direct effect on brain cells. With regular practice of Bhastrika Pranayama, more oxygen starts reaching the brain cells and due to this, the brain remains in normal condition and continues to perform all its functions for a long time.
Other simple measures
The more you use the brain, the more active it remains. Mental exercises help in the formation of new brain cells and maintain mental health. Learning new complex things like a new language, playing challenging mental games like chess, Sudoku, cross words etc. are helpful mental exercises. Reading and writing regularly will keep the mind active.
Ways to maintain a healthy memory
1. Follow a balanced nutritious diet and good behavior.
2. Exercise regularly, do yoga.
3. Take out time for your hobby.
4. Keep your diseases like diabetes, cholesterol, hypertension etc. under control.
5. Do not allow weight gain, abstain from smoking and consuming alcohol.
6. Continue to engage in your work and mental exercises.
In old age, elderly people have hope for love, intimacy, belongingness and respect. If they continue to get such a self-respecting environment, they can be protected from Alzheimer’s disease. But when the elderly have to spend time living in an environment of contempt, hatred and tension, they rapidly start losing their mental peace. Subsequently, ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and mental illness, can develop in them.
Therefore, in old age, one should not treat the elderly with neglect or contempt, but should treat them with love, affection and intimacy. This helps them to remain happy and healthy. Also, they can be kept healthy through balanced and nutritious diet, proper care, and Ayurvedic medicines and Panchakarma.
Written by: Dr. G. M. Mamtani (M.D.)