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  • Writer's pictureMarieke Pieterman, L.Ac.

Acupuncture for the cruelest disease: Alzheimer’s Disease

By Marieke A. Pieterman

Acupuncture for the cruelest disease: Alzheimer’s Disease
Acupuncture for the cruelest disease: Alzheimer’s Disease

Back in 2016, I was up in Cleveland for a very sad time in my life. I was traveling with my husband to visit my mother-in-law in hospice. She spent her last days there while dying of lung cancer and we would return shortly thereafter for her funeral. During these cold and bitter fall months in Cleveland, I noticed several new construction sites near her home and where she used to do her grocery shopping. I really didn’t really think anything of it, until I started noticing WHAT was actually planning on being built at these locations and was in shock.

We must have passed at least four different construction sites - for Alzheimer’s-specific nursing homes. It was as if the city was getting prepared for the “incoming” Baby Boomer generation and already “pre-destining” them to be in need of such care - riddled with Alzheimer’s disease. My heart sank. When I think back to my younger days, I feel like you didn’t hear as much about or know very many people who had Alzheimer’s or dementia as much as you hear about it today. Most people and clients I speak to either have a family member or know of someone who is currently struggling with Alzheimer’s or dementia. We all end up concluding our discussion saying the same thing: “It is such a cruel disease”.


For the most part, our loved ones have been healthy, living life to the fullest, and then it begins. Early Sunday morning, on the way to church, they find themselves not remembering how to get to church – the very same route they have taken every week for the last 10 years. This is how early on-set Alzheimer’s began for a sweet family member of mine – just a little over eight years ago, before he was even 60, and he has continued to decline ever since. My only wish is that he lived closer so that I could treat him regularly with acupuncture to help slow down the rapid decline of this horrible disease.


Not only is this a horrible disease, but the pharmacological option is equally horrible. Most of the friends I know using Aricept, or donepezil – the most common Alzheimer’s drug on the market - experience being violently ill for 2-3 days and in bed or suffer from chronic severe diarrhea from this medication. Once they stop the medication, these side effects completely resolve. This research also indicated drug side effects of stomach discomfort, low appetite, nausea, diarrhea, and insomnia with donepezil. Taking donepezil also increases the risk for gastric ulcers. Furthermore, donepezil is contraindicated for those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and epilepsy.


Fortunately acupuncture research has shown that acupuncture improves cognitive functions and living ability for Alzheimer’s patients, without causing the severe side effects that the pharmaceutical drugs can.

Researchers from the First Affiliated Hospital of Tianjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine compared the efficacy of acupuncture versus donepezil drug therapy for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. This research demonstrated that acupuncture outperformed Aricept/donepezil, a selective acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.


A total of 160 individuals already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease were treated and evaluated in this research study. These patients were randomly assigned to either the acupuncture treatment group or the drug therapy control group, with 80 patients in each.

During the study, eight patients dropped out of the acupuncture treatment group and eleven patients dropped out of the drug therapy control group.

The acupuncture group had 22 males and 50 females (aged between 68 – 82). The course of disease ranged from 11 – 19 years.

The drug therapy control group had 20 males and 49 females (aged between 65 – 79). The course of disease ranged from 13 – 19 years.


Clinical efficacy of the treatments were measured using four scales and assessments were done before and after treatments.

The first measure was the Minimum Mental State Examination (MMSE) which is a widely used to assess one’s cognitive impairment. Higher MMSE scores denote a better cognitive function.

The second measure was the Activities of Daily Living scale (ADL), which is used to detect problems with performing normal independent living activities. Lower ADL scores indicate that an individual has better independent living abilities.

The third measure is the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognition (ADAS-cog) and is commonly used to measure cognitive changes in Alzheimer’s disease patients. Lower ADAS-cog scores indicate that the individual has a better cognitive performance.

The fourth and final measure is the Digit Span (DS) is a test used to measure immediate verbal memory. Higher DS scores denote better immediate verbal memory.


The drug therapy donepezil control group received 5 mg doses of oral donepezil tablets before bed, for four consecutive weeks, as one treatment course. In the remaining three treatment courses, the donepezil was increased to 10 mg per day, before bed.

The acupuncture group received a standard list of acupuncture points, with some additional acupuncture points for those with certain Chinese diagnostic patterns. In addition, significant needle manipulation and deep insertion was applied to most of the acupuncture points. Acupuncture was administered daily, six days a week for four weeks, as one treatment course. Needles were retained for 30 minutes. The acupuncture was administered for a total of four treatment courses (16 weeks).


After the acupuncture and the drug therapy control group completed their treatment courses, the scores for the four measures were compiled and compared to the results prior to receiving treatment.

After treatment, both the MMSE score and the DS score, where higher scores are positive, were significantly increased in both groups when compared to their scores prior to treatment.

After treatment, both the ADL score and the ADAS-cog score, where lower scores are positive, were significantly reduced in both groups when compared to their scores prior to treatment.

While treatment helped both groups, acupuncture yielded even significantly better treatment results on all four measures compared with the drug therapy control group.

Future research should consider testing the combination of acupuncture and Aricept/donepezil as an integrative protocol to determine whether or not the combination of the two could be synergistic.


If someone you love is dealing with Alzheimer’s, I would consider adding acupuncture to their drug therapy to help increase cognitive abilities and slow down the progression of this horrible disease that seems to be attacking so many of our loved ones.

Call Holistic Heart Acupuncture today to schedule a free phone consultation about your Alzheimer’s loved one.

Acupuncture Beats Drug For Alzheimer’s Disease Treatment



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