There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, so we were open to trying new treatments. Along with Western medicine, we used many alternative approaches, including:
- Massage and Reiki bodywork. Dad received a weekly massage for more than 20 years and Reiki for the last six years of his life. Bodywork lowered his anxiety, promoted relaxation and better sleep, lowered pain, helped his body move more easily, stimulated his brain and gave him positive, comforting human healing touch.
- Acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. Dad received acupuncture twice a month for the last four years of his life. After his sessions, he was sharper cognitively. The acupuncture and Chinese herbs prescribed by the traditional Chinese medicine doctor became our top tools (with no apparent side effects) when his anxiety spiraled out of control.
- Chiropractic. Dad had adjustments from his chiropractor as needed, which alleviated pain and helped him walk more easily. He also often experienced a cognitive boost as he did after acupuncture and exercise. His chiropractor made it easier for him with a special exam table that Dad stepped onto; it then lowered down flat for his adjustments.
- Aromatherapy. We used an ultrasound diffuser with lavender that helped him sleep much more soundly. Citrus oils helped him wake up and during the day stress-relief oil blends helped calm his anxieties (and that also helped us as his caregivers).
- Infrared lights. I read many research articles indicating near-infrared light therapy may be helpful with Alzheimer’s disease. We were able to borrow a light therapy unit from Dad’s doctor, and used it on Dad’s head twice a day. We observed improvement in his abilities and mood so we purchased a unit and used it during the last year of his life.
- Nutrition. Dad loved the fresh organic vegetable/fruit juice we made him every morning for many years; it was hydrating and full of nutrients. We used strong flavors in his food to stimulate his appetite, and I tried to avoid gluten, dairy and high amounts of sugar in his diet as well. At the end of his life we pureed all of his food.
- Music. Dad was a lifelong music lover, so it became our constant companion. When it was time to wake up, we started with calming classical music or hymns, then changed to show tunes and then to Big Band music. We sang throughout every day—as a distraction when Dad was anxious, to encourage an even gait when he walked and simply to have fun. When TV show plots became too difficult for him to follow, he enjoyed watching movie musicals and Lawrence Welk every day.
5. Remaining in a home environment
Mom and Dad wanted to stay in their home as they aged, so that’s what I helped them do. I moved to Arizona from Washington, D.C., to provide support, and when they decided to move to a senior community, we made their apartment “home” with their furniture, artwork, family heirlooms, flowers and seasonal decorations.
When they both needed 24-hour care, they moved back into their house with me. When Mom died, Dad lost his North Star, so it helped him to be in his home with familiar people, animals and belongings. At home, my sister (who moved from Ohio to Arizona to help) and I could provide most of his care, adjusting his care plan as we saw fit and closely monitoring other caregivers.
Most importantly, while Alzheimer’s made Dad feel scared and confused at times, we were always there to provide comfort and meet his ever-changing needs. We were his constants, and he almost always “knew” us on some level, calling me his daughter and my sister, Linda, by her name just weeks before he died. He trusted us and he always knew he was loved; it was our greatest gift to him. And in turn we received the gift of peace of mind.