I often get questions about medicines, therapies, oils, or supplements that are supposed to impede or reverse the progress of Alzheimer’s, or even cure the disease. Many of these so-called cures appear on social media and television, making extravagant claims about quick and positive results.
I can share my own experience as a caregiver. I had a relative who sold supplements and homeopathic methods that he claimed would slow the progress of Alzheimer’s. Like many, I was willing to try anything that might reduce or eliminate my husband’s agony with this awful disease.
Soon, I found myself with a very big box of compounds, supplements, juices, and oils that were promised to bring him relief. And they always had to be administered through elaborate schedules or with an array of other requirements including changes in diet.
Just managing the process became overwhelming, and every time I turned around another “cure” was suggested to be added to the regimen. It seems like I was never offered the new breakthrough that would eliminate the problem and replace all the others. It was just another bottle of some supplement or liquid to be taken along with all the rest.
And it became very expensive. None of these products was cheap, and soon I was spending more than $500 a month on my big box of cures for Alzheimer’s.
The promoters of these products often trade on fear, frustration, and false hope. I look back and believe that I often found hope in these promised cures because I wanted to. I continued for a time because I occasionally thought I saw a positive change.
But it never lasted, and I think my hope often got in the way of what Albert really needed from me, and that was understanding and compassionate care. Take it from me, fighting the disease can get in the way of caring for the person, and false hope can get in the way of true compassion.
Let me add here that anything that can contribute to better health in general – such as better diet – can create better quality of life during the journey, and this is good. So, I am definitely not an enemy of alternative methods. But I am opposed to anything that makes false claims or exploits the hopes of people who are coping with dementia.
Let’s review the bitter facts about Alzheimer’s as we know them today. It is a debilitating disease that causes the brain to atrophy and die. It is progressive, fatal, and at this point in time incurable. No drug has yet been developed that will cure or impede the progress of the disease. In fact, there is yet to be a medication created specifically to attack Alzheimer’s.
There are several psychotropic drugs that moderate one’s mood, which can be helpful with behaviors for a period of time. But none of these actually confronts or interrupts the disease that is destroying the brain.
To my knowledge, none of the claimed cures that float around popular culture has been subjected to any kind of clinical trials based on scientific method. Their claims for success are usually anecdotal, so we must always keep a skeptical eye out for the language used to sell these products. For example, I read an ad recently where one doctor proudly proclaimed that his successful results had been “published.” Published where and when it did not say.
I have two concerns about claims and methods that are often untrue and overstated. First, in the absence of a real cure or remediation, this disease is going to grow at an alarming rate over the next twenty years as the Baby Boomers arrive at their seventh decade. Alzheimer’s is going to become fertile ground for what were referred to in the Old West as “snake oil salesmen,” feeding on the hopes and fears of an ever-growing population of caregivers.
But my second concern is for what these claims and methods can do to the focus on our task of quality care. As I said above, I found myself in a desperate state where I think I paid more attention to the false hope of finding a “fix” than on the man I was caring for.
As we desperately seek a solution to this difficult disease, we may do well to remember that portion of the Hippocratic Oath that says, “I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”
We must accept the science and the unhappy facts of this disease as it exists today in the absence of a known solution, and focus our attention and energy on our loved ones through the techniques and philosophy of compassionate care. We should let nothing get in the way of that responsibility. Not even hope!
Please remember my slogan “We All Deserve The Best”