Ayurveda cures dementia

When memory fades - part 1

Many millions of people are affected worldwide - dementia is a widespread disease. Ayurveda can help prevent pathological forgetting and provide soothing support in the event of illness.

The personality changes sometimes drastically, those affected no longer remember an event they have just experienced, feel increasingly overwhelmed and lose interest in previously joyful experiences. These and other signs can herald dementia, one of the most common symptoms in old age.

The disease has recently received a lot of attention not only because of its strong increase worldwide, but also because more and more prominent cases are being made public. The list of those affected is long, and the way they deal with the diagnosis is different: after 40 years of marriage, Ronald Reagan no longer recognized his wife Nancy, the former actor and head of Ethiopia Aid Karlheinz Böhm kept silent about severe dementia and the industrial heir and photographer Gunter until shortly before his death Sachs committed suicide at the age of 78 in order not to have to experience the progression of the disease.

In 2012, the fate of the former soccer manager Rudi Assauer moved people in particular. Assauer, who has become known as a robust macho, went public with his suffering and thus re-stimulated the discussion about how to deal with dementia.

Interesting facts about dementia from today's perspective

The word "dementia" is composed of the Latin de = decreasing and mens = mind and describes a group of around 50 degenerative diseases of the brain that lead to a loss of mental performance in the long term.
Around 1.4 million people in Germany live with dementia. The World Alzheimer's Report 2013 looks alarmingly into the future: in 2050, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple from currently 35 million to 115 million people worldwide.
This development represents one of the greatest challenges for the health systems of all countries, and Germany is still a long way from mastering it. There is a lack of long-term strategies that ensure adequate care for those affected.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, named after the psychiatrist and brain researcher Alois Alzheimer, who first gave a lecture in Tübingen in 1906, “about a peculiar, serious disease process in the cerebral cortex”.
Short-term memory, thinking skills, language and motor skills are primarily affected.

Classification of dementia diseases

The ICD-10 (International Classification of Diseases) distinguishes between four dementia groups:

  • Dementia in Alzheimer's disease: affects around two thirds of all dementia sufferers
  • Vascular dementia: the cause lies in circulatory disorders (occurrence in about 1/5 of all dementia patients)
  • Dementia in diseases classified elsewhere: e.g. dementia in Parkinson's disease
  • Other dementias

Causes of dementia

The causes of dementia depend on the specific clinical picture. While the mechanisms of the blood flow-related forms have largely been elucidated, science has not yet been able to decipher the causes of Alzheimer's disease in detail.
It is known that protein fragments, so-called amyloid plaques, are deposited in the brain years before Alzheimer's disease breaks out. These prevent the exchange of information between the nerve cells. The progressive loss of nerve cells causes the brain to shrink by up to 20 percent.

The main risk factor is old age, women are more often affected. Other risk factors include depression, circulatory disorders, high blood pressure, increased homocysteine ​​levels (an amino acid), diabetes mellitus, alcohol addiction, and obesity. Alzheimer's occurs in families, genetic factors play a role. The risk for siblings or children of the sick increases especially if the disease breaks out early.
All neurodegenerative dementias progress, their course can extend over several years. They lead to extensive need for care and a shortened life expectancy.

Appearance and course of Alzheimer's disease

It can take up to three decades for the first signs of Alzheimer's disease to appear, and the brain can compensate for the loss of nerve cells for a long time. Those affected suffer from increasing memory loss in the early stages, names and terms are more difficult to remember, and the ability to concentrate and judge decreases. They misplace objects more often and are less able to absorb new information. The ability to orientate decreases, so in the restaurant you cannot find the way back from the toilet to the table or you get lost in the forest. This decline in performance lasts 5-10 years and often creates shame, frustration and fear in those affected. As a result, it is not uncommon for people to become socially isolated in order not to attract public attention.

In the middle stage, those affected gradually lose awareness of their disease. Forgetfulness and disorientation continue to increase, and language is also increasingly impaired. Appointments and dates get mixed up and memories of important experiences and companions in life fade. The change in personality is difficult for relatives to endure.

The late stage is associated with loss of linguistic communication and physical decline. There is incontinence, susceptibility to infection, stiffness and being bedridden in need of care. Those affected lose track of time, can no longer orientate themselves and can no longer recognize their relatives. Despite all these sad features, they can temporarily be emotionalized by familiar sounds, smells and prayers.

Diagnosis and therapy of dementia

So far there is no drug that can cure irreversible dementias like Alzheimer's. Existing drugs aim to alleviate symptoms and, at best, to slow their progression.

For this reason, early detection is of great importance. The sooner the disease is recognized and treated, the slower it will progress. The diagnosis is made from the medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests, neuropsychological test procedures and imaging procedures such as CT or MRI.

In terms of therapy, the focus is on maintaining everyday skills as long as possible. For this, behavior therapy, memory and brain performance training are used as well as physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Relatives are often given psychotherapeutic support in order to be able to withstand the demands of care and support for those affected.

In terms of medication, antidementia drugs are used to improve mental performance, antidepressants and neuroleptics to alleviate behavioral disorders and, if necessary, drugs to treat other causes such as circulatory disorders. Drug therapy can relieve symptoms, but it has significant side effects, so it's not a happy solution.

Dementia from an Ayurvedic point of view

The cause of dementia lies in the mind, its effects are also noticeable in the body and the senses. The loss of memory is called in Ayurveda Smriti Bhramsha, the creeping breakdown of brain mass Majjakshaya and refers to the sixth of seven body tissues (Majja Dhatu = bone marrow and nerve tissue). The predominant Dosha is Vata, which can disturb Pitta and Kapha secondarily.

In Ayurveda we differentiate between three central "faculties", that is, abilities of the mind

  • Buddhi = the ability to discern
  • Dhriti = the determination and willpower
  • Smriti = the memory

Our mind is shaped by the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas

  • Under the in fl uence of sattva, the principle of mental balance, all three faculties function perfectly, age-appropriate.
  • Rajas, the principle of tension and energy, selectively promotes our mental abilities to achieve personal goals and avoid unwanted experiences.
  • Under the influence of tamas, the principle of mental indolence and dullness, all three faculties are weakened.

In dementia there is a decrease in all three intellectual faculties with deficits in the cognitive, emotional and social areas. People with dementia can often no longer distinguish between dream, past and reality (buddhi bhramsha) and hallucinate. The loss of memory prevents decisions based on past experiences.

Dementia prophylaxis - prevention is what counts

A conscious and healthy life in the Ayurvedic sense can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing a dementia disease. The well-known neurobiologist and Ayurveda doctor Vinod Verma describes in her book "Prevention of dementia" twelve risk factors that need to be controlled:

  • Excessive and incorrect use of the sense organs
  • Incorrect shoulder and neck posture
  • Wrong breathing
  • Blockage of nasal breathing
  • Chronically recurring colds with accumulations of mucus, sinusitis
  • Chronic Vata imbalance
  • General weakness, deep exhaustion
  • high blood pressure
  • Frequent mental tension and feeling of helplessness
  • Shock experiences and trauma
  • Living in the past, fear of the future
  • Jumping thoughts

According to Verma, the goal is to preserve and protect nerve cells, brain mass and sensory organs and to ensure their healthy interaction.
Complementary methods of dementia prophylaxis are a balanced diet, regular exercise, professional and private exercise, active social life and cultivating contacts as well as daily mental training.

The efficiency of the brain depends on how it is used. That is why you should always look for new challenges without overwhelming yourself. Learning new languages, setting up and using a computer, and continuing to educate oneself even in old age can be valuable “training courses” against dementia.

Meditation is the best training for the mind recommended in Ayurveda. This allows tensions to be regulated, the mind to be centered, the body to be controlled, the senses to be regenerated and emotions to be released.

Ahara - Ayurvedic nutritional medicine for dementia

From the western point of view, a Mediterranean diet is a good prophylactic against dementia: lots of vegetables, fruit, olive oil, fish and whole grain bread are recommended. The highly concentrated omega-3 fatty acids contained in fatty fish are also recommended as a dietary supplement; vegetarians and vegans can use seaweed products as an alternative.

From an Ayurvedic point of view, ghee is recommended daily as the best fat for our nervous system. This should be supplemented with olive oil and a nut / seed oil (example walnut oil). In Ayurveda, the meal system, the choice of food groups and their proportions are always made individually based on the person and not just based on their clinical picture. Therefore, a general recommendation for dementia is not possible here.
In order to reduce the increased Vata and air element, warm, oily and nourishing food should be consumed regularly.

Vihara - Ayurvedic therapy for dementia

Dementia sufferers need regular daily routines with regular eating times, active and passive elements. The effects of music and art have been known for some time and can have a soothing effect in every stage of dementia. Singing and making music together is very emotional and intensifies positive feelings.

Vastu Shastra, the Vedic teaching of healthy living, can be used as "Ayurvedic milieu therapy". This is primarily aimed at the design of living spaces to increase the well-being of those affected. Colors, fabrics and furniture can have a strong influence on this and awaken positive memories.

Aushadha - Ayurvedic herbal medicine for dementia

Therapy with medicinal plants aims to improve the metabolism in nerve tissue, prevent cerebral degeneration and optimize the performance of all nerve cells.

The following medicinal plants with an anti-dementia effect are used for this purpose

  • Withanja Somnifera = Ashvagandha (winter cherry)
  • Curcuma Longa = Haridra (turmeric)
  • Bacopa Monnieri = Brahmi (small fat leaf)
  • Convolulus Pluricaulis = Shankhapushpi (bindweed)
  • Centella asiatica = Mandukaparni (Indian pennywort)
  • Celastrus Paniculatus = Jyotishmatt (tree shrike)
  • Nardostachys Jatamansi = Jatamansi (Indian nard)
  • Acorus Calamus = Vacha (sweet flag)
  • Glycyrrhiza Glabra = Yashtimadhu (licorice)
  • Tinospora Cordifolia = Guduchi

Many mechanisms of action of these plants could be proven in scientific studies, here are three examples

  • Ashvagandha increases cognition and memory, is adaptogenic and improves the adaptation to internal and external stressors. Your withanamides inhibit free radicals, prevent amyloid formation and block the death of nerve cells promoted by amyloid deposits.
  • Turmeric counteracts the accumulation of amyloid plaques and reduces existing ones.
    It is also one of the most effective anti-inflammatory and free radical reduction agents.
  • Brahmi improves cognitive functions, strengthens memory and protects neurons from amlyoid-induced cell death by inhibiting cellular acetylcholinesterase activity.

The exact composition of the medicinal plants in question must be carried out by an experienced Ayurveda diagnostician and therapist. I strongly advise against self-medication, which can also have negative consequences.

It is now undisputed that the plants mentioned have a positive effect on the central nervous system (CNS) with regard to the problem of dementia. One central question, however, has not yet been adequately answered: Can the herbal ingredients cross the blood-brain barrier and thus reach the CNS? Further study and research is needed to clarify this important question. Until then, we will build on the extensive experience from a classic Ayurvedic point of view. It is interesting that Ayurveda very often uses greasy preparations based on ghee or sesame oil for therapy of the nervous system and administers them not only orally, but also through the nose and skin. From a western perspective, this can be a way to cross the blood-brain barrier.

When memory fades - part 2


Volume 44 - Dementia

The Ayurveda Journal deals with dementia as the cover topic in this issue.