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  • How Acupuncture and Yoga Can Help Alzheimer’s Patients

How Acupuncture and Yoga Can Help Alzheimer’s Patients


In the U.S. alone, over six million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, with over 11 million Americans providing unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, integrative, whole-person healthcare approaches taught at Southern California University of Health Sciences (SCU), such as acupuncture and yoga, can help treat symptoms and provide a number of wellness benefits to people living with this debilitating disease.

What is Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder, is the most prevalent form of dementia, a general term used to describe symptoms associated with a decline in memory and impaired cognitive functionality. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it is estimated that 60-80% of dementia cases are caused by Alzheimer’s disease.

Though the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s is age, it is not a normal part of aging. Rather, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are caused by damage to brain cells that affects their ability to communicate, resulting in changes to an individual’s thinking and behavior.

As such diseases progress, symptoms get more severe, ranging from cognitive decline, such as increased disorientation and confusion, to decreased mobility and emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. Symptoms experienced by Alzheimer’s patients take a toll on both the patients and their loved ones as symptoms grow increasingly severe over time.

Acupuncture Treatments for Alzheimer’s Patients

Whole health, non-pharmacological therapies such as acupuncture and yoga have the potential to alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in numerous ways. In acupuncture, points on the body called “acupoints” are stimulated, typically with tiny, sterile needles, which release chemicals into the body. This is believed to stimulate the body’s natural healing response, which in turn promotes physical and emotional well-being.

Henry Hwang, DC, L.Ac, Director of the Clinical Education Department and Assistant Professor, Eastern Medicine Department at SCU, describes some of the benefits of acupuncture that can help Alzheimer’s patients. These benefits include:

  • Releasing endorphins to decrease pain levels
  • Increasing circulation
  • Increasing the body’s immune response
  • Deceasing inflammation
  • Stimulating the internal organs
  • Improving oxygen levels in the brain

Another way acupuncture can help with symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease is to reduce feelings of anxiety and fear in patients. As Dr. Hwang explains, “The amygdaloidal responses cause people to be very on edge – in that sympathetic fight or flight mode – all the time. We, as practitioners, can get in there and help bring it down.”

Feelings of stress and anxiety are caused by this automatic fight or flight response, also referred to as Sympathetic Dominance, which is characterized by physiological responses designed for short-term protection from danger, such as faster, shallow breathing, increased blood pressure, and decreased digestive function.

Dr. Hwang says that acupuncture can “break that cycle of Sympathetic Dominance to allow the body to rest and facilitate its own natural healing component.” This, in turn, can aid in alleviating stress and anxiety.

Increase Mindfulness and Connection through Yoga

The Institute on Aging also recommends yoga for reducing stress and anxiety in Alzheimer’s patients. An ancient system of physical, mental, and spiritual practices, yoga focuses on bringing harmony between the mind and body and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of age or ability. With the right instruction, yoga can help Alzheimer’s patients engage more with the present and connect with community.

Other benefits include increased feelings of relaxation, improved flexibility, lower irritability, and increased attentiveness. Students of a range of physical and cognitive capacities can participate and enjoy the benefits yoga provides, as long as modifications that consider the pacing and communication needs of the participants are utilized.

While Alzheimer’s disease brings unease and disconnection to the lives of those affected, yoga can assist with regaining some of that connection. “Yoga means union,” Christina Cantu, Term 3 Ayurveda Wellness Educator Program student, says. “It’s the practice of bringing together the mind, body, and breath; it’s the practice of bringing together community; it’s a practice of bringing together a balance of the nervous system which in return creates homeostasis within.” 

For those looking to improve their memory and focus before the onset of Alzheimer’s, Christina recommends focusing on breathing and the practice of being mindfully aware.

“Be mindful of your thoughts, be mindful of how you treat others, be mindful of your posture, be mindful of you and your surroundings,” she says. “Be patient with the self, and never forget that life is a daily practice of doing and exploring.”

To experience the benefits of yoga and mindfulness from the comfort of your home, join Christina for weekly free livestreams on the SCU Instagram. For more information on how you can take the next step in your integrative, whole-person healthcare career at SCU, visit scuhs.edu/.

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