Dementia is a decline of reasoning, memory, and other mental abilities, which are collectively called the cognitive functions. This decline eventually impairs the ability to carry out everyday activities such as driving, household chores, and even personal care such as bathing, dressing and feeding. Dementia affects about 1% of people aged 60-70 years. Dementia is different from age-related memory loss; a condition in which a person may not be able to find his glasses or remember someone’s name, but will still be able to learn new things, solve problems, and carry out his everyday activities.
The causes of dementia can be divided into reversible and irreversible .The irreversible causes damage brain cells in both the cortical and sub-cortical areas of the brain, and are mostly due to Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Reversible causes include head injury, infections, excess fluid in the brain, tumors, metabolic and hormonal disorders, poor oxygen supply, drug reactions and toxic substance exposure.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a slowly progressive disease of the brain characterized by impairment of memory and eventually by disturbances in reasoning, planning, language and perception. Old age, genetic factors, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, a history of trauma to the head, and a poor academic education are indicated as risk factors for AD. AD accounts for nearly half of the cases of dementia.
The basic principles of Ayurveda can be put to judicious use in treating both dementia and AD. Excess deposition of protein, dysfunction of the brain cell neurotransmitters, and destruction of brain cells are characteristic of these conditions. Brain damage, which is the root cause of this condition, can be treated using medicines which improve the metabolism of the “Majja” dhatu in the body, and help in improving the overall functioning and quality of the brain cells. Medicines useful in this condition are: Pancha-Tikta-Ghruta Guggulu, Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia), Amalaki (Emblica officinalis) and Musta (Cyperus rotundus).
In addition, Ayurveda mentions a category of medicines known as “Medhya”, which improve the working capacity of the brain. This category includes medicines like Mandukparni (Centella asiatica), Yashtimadhuk (Glycerrhiza glabra), Guduchi, Padma (Nelumbo nucifera), Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), Vacha (Acorus calamus) and Shankhpushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis). These medicines may help in slowing down the destruction of brain cells, stabilizing brain function, and in the long run may even help to regenerate brain cells. Very little is known about the full potential of herbal medicines in these conditions, and detailed, scientific research is the need of the hour. However, what is definitely known at present is that results are best when treatment is started early in the course of the disease. Early and specific diagnosis is therefore, of the utmost importance.