According to the National Institute on Aging, as many as 5 million Americans over the age of 65 suffer from some form of Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, as many as one in three seniors will die from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s disease is considered the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and claims the lives of approximately 500,000 people each year. Women are more likely than men to suffer from the condition, as they represent two-thirds of all Americans with Alzheimer’s.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease does not just affect patients. It can also take a terrible toll on caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association states that just in 2013, 15.5 million caretakers (including family and friends) provided an estimated 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. All of these unpaid hours of care are valued at somewhere around $220 billion.
What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a type of dementia. In fact, it is the most common type of dementia, accounting for somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of all dementia cases. Alzheimer’s disease is marked by a slow progression of problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Despite what many people think, Alzheimer’s disease is not simply a natural effect of aging. There are actual structural changes that take place in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients that cause memory loss.
Standard Treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease
Currently, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but research efforts are ongoing. There are several medications that may help with memory loss, particularly for the early to moderate stages of the disease. These medications prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, which is a chemical messenger thought to allow for memory and learning. These medications can delay any worsening of symptoms for anywhere from six to 12 months.
These medications for Alzheimer’s disease are often combined with behavioral training or modification to deal with factors such as changes in mood, sleep patterns, or behavior. Medications such as antidepressants or antipsychotics may help, but these are all “off-label” uses (not the use for which the medication was intended). Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications specifically to treat the behavioral and psychiatric symptoms associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Chiropractic Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease
Some interesting research into what causes the changes in the brain that lead to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia may offer some intriguing ways in which chiropractic care may offer patients an alternative to medications. A researcher at Northwestern University found that if the brain does not get enough glucose, a set of changes in the brain may be set in motion that could lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The theory is that if the brain does not get enough proper nutrients, it begins to starve, which can lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
From a chiropractic perspective, if the blood vessels or nerves leading from the cervical (upper) region of the spinal column are pinched or otherwise constricted, the brain may be deprived of the vital nutrients it needs to function properly in terms of retaining memory and governing behavior.
Dr. Nathen Horst understands that living with Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult for both patient and caretaker. Fortunately, chiropractic care may offer a real benefit to all those affected by the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.