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Six drug-free treatment options for people with cognitive illnesses

While cures may not currently be possible for many forms of cognitive illnesses, are there ways to treat people without the use of drugs?

Some believe it is possible to help manage some of the challenging behaviors and symptoms with a number of drug-free treatment options, including holistic therapies. It’s important to note, however, that many of these are based on trial and error, not scientific research.

In fact, according to the Alzheimer's Association®, “The rigorous scientific research required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the approval of a prescription drug is not required by law for the marketing of dietary supplements or ‘medical foods.’” This means that side effects, uses and efficiency may not be safely monitored. For that reason, many people tend to opt for a different approach: holistic therapies and lifestyle changes.

Options for older adults with dementia …

There are a number of steps you might test when trying to help a person with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. These approaches can affect everyone differently, but through trial and error, you may be better able to help a loved one.

1.    Aromatherapy. Some people may become agitated, angry or even depressed as a result of dementia; it can thus be difficult for them to relax or calm down. In these cases, aromatherapy may be able to help. Try rubbing a lavender-scented lotion on their hands or spraying a refreshing citrus room spray to lift spirits in the morning.

2.    Massage Therapy. If your loved one doesn’t mind being touched, massage therapy might be something that is good for them. It can not only help to relax the person, but also release oxytocin to promote peace and calm.

3.    Pet Therapy. There are few people who don’t instantly light up when they see an animal. Known to be successful in an array of situations, pet therapy can help break up your loved one’s routine and bring joy and happiness. Whether the person prefers the company of a dog or a cat, friendly purrs and wagging tails can make a difference.

4.    Light Therapy. Do you find your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia suffers from “sundowning,” which can prompt agitation, confusion and aggressive behaviors. Light therapy promotes a natural circadian rhythm to decrease the likelihood of sundowning, potentially making nights calmer and more peaceful.

5.    Art Therapy. Older persons with dementia often have a hard time conveying emotion, whether it’s fear, confusion or anger. Sometimes, artistic media such as painting or drawing can help them to express themselves. Try this with loved ones to see if their mood changes afterwards.

6.    Music Therapy. Have you ever had a song take you back to another place in time? Music has the power to connect people and help them remember moments and feelings. If the right song is played, seniors with dementia may reconnect to who they once were, allowing them to express themselves and possibly even sing and dance!

Let us know if you try any of these approaches and the effect you see.

Susan Xander, MBA, ADC-MC, CDP
Director of Community Life
Luther Crest

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