Chinese Medicine and Alzheimer’s

The ancient Chinese method of acupuncture has been used for thousands of years throughout the world. It is a widely accepted practice in the West that has been shown to help treat a long list of ailments.

Treating Alzheimer's Symptoms with Acupuncture

A number of studies have shown that acupuncture can also have a positive effect on Alzheimer’s disease, improving mood as well as cognitive skills. Learn more about acupuncture and what it can do to help people living with Alzheimer’s.

What is Acupuncture?

For the last 3,500 years, acupuncture has been used to treat a variety of ailments. The ancient Chinese practice theorizes that there are patterns of energy called Qi, that flow through the body and are essential for good health. When Qi is interrupted, it is believed that disease can occur. Acupuncture doctors feel they can fix the disruption by inserting needles in specific locations and patterns to help restore the correct energy flow and treat the disease.

Acupuncture is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. and is now widely practiced in the West. Although there have been many studies to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture, many are inconclusive because of the strong possibility for a placebo effect. However, promising results have been reported when acupuncture has been used as treatment for a variety of ailments including:

  • Nausea and vomiting following chemotherapy and/or surgery

  • ADD

  • Addiction

  • Autism

  • Depression

  • Stroke rehabilitation

  • Headaches

  • Menstrual cramps


  • Osteoarthritis

  • Low back pain

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Asthma
  • Osteoarthritis

  • Low back pain

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Alzheimers

  • Fibromyalgia


Positive Effects of Acupuncture on Alzheimer’s

Two separate studies have shown that acupuncture may be able to help people with Alzheimer’s. In both studies, researchers found that acupuncture improves the lives of patients with the disease by increasing verbal and motor skills and improves mood and cognitive function.

The study conducted at Wellesley College in 2000 concluded that acupuncture could treat anxiety and depression for people who have Alzheimer’s. The study involved 11 participants who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or Vascular Dementia. Participants received acupuncture treatment 2-3 times per week for three months. Following treatment, researchers evaluated the mood of participants and found substantial increases in mood and energy while decreasing pain caused by other ailments as a result of the aging process. Dr. Nancy Emerson Lombardo, et al, of Wellesley College encouraged caregivers and patients to give acupuncture a try, saying:

“I think people should check it out. Besides anxiety and depression, they are likely to have other issues such as pain that can be significantly helped with acupuncture.”

A second study was completed at the University of Hong Kong in 2000. This study administered acupuncture treatments to eight patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. Participants received acupuncture for 7 days in a row, followed by 3 days of rest then continuing the protocol with treatment on alternating days, ie, Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the duration of the Patient’s program.The research team concluded that after treatments were finished, “participants shows significant improvement in memory and attention, as well as increased motor and verbal skills.”

While neither study provides conclusive evidence that acupuncture can definitively treat Alzheimer’s, their studies show promising results and lay the foundation for longer and more controlled studies which could drastically improve the lives of patients living with Alzheimer’s.

Their results have launched more research in evaluating the effects of acupuncture on the brain, which confirmed that acupuncture activated regions of the brain that were impaired in patients who had Alzheimer’s, giving more credence to the theory that acupuncture can have a potential positive effect on memory.

In Alzheimer’s animal models, acupuncture stimulation at acupoints enhances cholinergic neurotransmission, trophic factor releasing, reduces apoptotic and oxidative damages, improves synaptic plasticity and decreases the levels of Aβ proteins in the hippocampus and relevant brain regions. (In other words acupuncture enhances the communication between brain cells via the neurotransmission of acetylcholine.)The biochemical modulations by acupuncture in the brains of Alzheimer’s models are correlated with the cognitive improvement. In Alzheimer’s patients, functional brain images demonstrated that acupuncture increased in the activity in the temporal lobe and prefrontal lobe which are related to the memory and cognitive function. Acupuncture clinical studies represent an important step forward in the research of both acupuncture and Alzheimer’s. Here too, translation of acupuncture research in animal model studies into the human subjects will undoubtedly enhance acupuncture efficacy in clinical study and treatment which could eventually lead to a safer, well-tolerated and inexpensive form of care for Alzheimer’s patients.


Dementia is a cognitive impairment that can occur with certain diseases. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior. Most types of Dementia are degenerative, meaning they are non reversible. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of Dementia, but there are many forms this impairment can take. Some of the most common conditions that can lead to Dementia include Lewy Body Disease, Huntington’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, brain tumors, chronic alcohol abuse, brain injury, and strokes (which lead to vascular dementia).

In addition to memory loss, there are several common symptoms that accompany Dementia. Change in sleep patterns, waking often during the night, forgetting details, depression, agitation, or withdrawing from social contact are common side effects involved with this condition. Traditional Chinese Medicine provides a great deal of help in addressing conditions associated with Dementia. From acupuncture and micro-current to herbal remedies, Chinese Medicine provided by a well practiced and skillful doctor addresses these conditions for an aging population of patients looking for relief.

Acupuncture has shown promising results in treating the depression and anxiety associated with Dementia, as well as increasing patient’s verbal and motor skills and in increasing cognitive function. Two well known studies on the matter came out of Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and the University of Hong Kong. These studies, among others, were first presented at the World Alzheimer’s Conference in Washington, D.C.

In addition to the Wellesley study noted above, Dr. Nancy Emerson Lombardo and a team of colleagues at Wellesley College in Massachusetts studied 11 patients, 10 with Alzheimer’s and one with vascular dementia. Subjects were treated with acupuncture twice a week for three months, with each subject receiving a minimum of 22 treatments. Patients were subjected to a variety of tests before and after being treated, including the Cornell Scale for Depression, the Speilberger State Anxiety Inventory, and the Mini-Mental Status Exam (MMSE) for cognitive function.

The results stated “statistically significant improvements” in the depression and anxiety scores of patients. For example, the average Spielberger anxiety score at the start of treatment was 49.5; at the end of three months, it had decreased to 40.1. Four subjects experienced “substantial improvement” in mood symptoms after undergoing acupuncture; of those whose moods improved, two also showed improved MMSE scores, and a third improved in tests for fluency and naming ability.

While cognitive function was not measured scientifically (no control group was used), Lombardo said that those delivering treatment seemed to note an improvement in their subjects’ thinking skills along with the other improvements, which she believes indicates a close relationship between cognitive ability, anxiety and depression.

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