Does Acupuncture Work with Alzheimer’s Symptoms?

Of all the alternative medicine approaches, acupuncture has garnered considerable academic respect from researchers. This respect has led to the endorsement of acupuncture by the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health. 

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Most acupuncture research demonstrates its effects on the central nervous system and pain management. Specifically, acupuncture deactivates areas of the brain associated with processing pain.[1] Acupuncture has also been documented as beneficial for spinal injuries, infertility, and the side effects of chemotherapy.[2]

Acupuncture May Improve Cognition in People with MCI and Alzheimer’s

Some research also shows promising benefits of acupuncture for people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), also known as pre-dementia, and Alzheimer’s. For instance, brain MRIs of people receiving acupuncture shows it stimulates areas of the brain associated with memory, language, and reasoning, areas known to be impaired in patients with Alzheimer’s.[3] One study revealed that subjects treated for a total of 30 days with acupuncture showed significant improvements in cognition, verbal skills, motor coordination, and the overall severity of Alzheimer’s symptoms.[4]

Using an EEG to measure electrical activity in the brain and an ERP to measure the brain’s response to stimuli, researchers in another study found acupuncture of specific points stimulated the cognitive function in the decision-making process, as well as attention and orientation to changes in the environment.[5]

Acupuncture Relieves Depression Symptoms, Anxiety, and Agitation in People with Alzheimer’s

Acupuncture may also relieve depression symptoms, anxiety, and agitation associated with Alzheimer’s. For instance, one study showed, subjects with dementia were treated with acupuncture twice a week for three months. Tests completed before and after the treatments showed significantly reduced depression and anxiety in the subjects.[6] Another study found acupuncture improved symptoms of agitation in Alzheimer’s patients. The Alzheimer’s patients received acupuncture twice a week for two weeks. Compared to both a control and placebo group, the group receiving acupuncture showed improvements with less agitation.[7]

How Does Acupuncture Work in Preventing Alzheimer’s and MCI?

Perhaps one of acupuncture’s most useful roles when it comes to protecting brain health and lowering the risk of MCI and Alzheimer’s is that it can be extremely relaxing. Many acupuncture enthusiasts report not only health benefits, but also more relaxation, and a calm, mental alertness with regular treatments.

Considerations:

If you have never had acupuncture treatments and are ready to get started, be sure to consider the following:

  • Make sure your acupuncturist is licensed or holds a certificate from an accredited institution, such as the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists.
  • Make sure your acupuncturist studied acupuncture for a minimum of three years.
  • Remember to give it time. Acupuncture is not a one-time treatment. It usually takes several sessions to notice results.

To search for an acupuncturist in your area, view our doctor and practitioner directory. You can also look for community acupuncture clinics, which are growing in popularity and are usually a very economical way to receive regular acupuncture treatments.


[1] University of York (2010, February 5). Study maps effects of acupuncture on the brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/02/100204101736.htm

[2] Huang W, Pach D, Napadow V, Park K, Long X, et al. (2012) Characterizing Acupuncture Stimuli Using Brain Imaging with fMRI – A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Literature. PLoS ONE 7(4): e32960. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032960

[3] Effect of acupuncture given at the HT 7, ST 36, ST 40 and KI 3 acupoints on various parts of the brains of Alzheimer’ s disease patients,” Zhou Y, Jin J, et al, Acupunct Electrother Res, 2008; 33(1-2): 9-17. (Address: Department of Neurology, Xuan Wu Hospital, Capital Medical University, Beijing, China).

[4] “Alzheimer’s Disease and Acupuncture: Treatment Appears to Improve Mood and Cognitive Functions.”Acupuncture Today. September, 2000, Vol. 01, Issue 09.

[5] “Characterizing Acupuncture Stimuli Using Brain Imaging with fMRI – A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Literature.” PLoS One. 2012; 7(4): e32960. Published online 2012 April 9. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032960.

[6] “Alzheimer’s Disease and Acupuncture: Treatment Appears to Improve Mood and Cognitive Functions.”Acupuncture Today. September, 2000, Vol. 01, Issue 09.

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