Alzheimer disease is the most common cause of dementia. Dementia is a loss in mental function that impacts daily life. The ability to learn, remember, and function is slowly lost. It is related to abnormal deposits of protein and twisted fibers in nerve cells in the brain. The cause of this is not known. Less common disease forms include those associated with heart disease and Parkinson disease.
There is no cure. Some medications can treat symptoms and may slow cognitive loss. Some patients and caregivers look to natural treatments to help manage changes related to dementia. They may ease anxiety, improve sleep, or improve clarity in thought process.
Dementia is serious and requires standard medical treatment and close supervision. The following alternative treatments may favorably effect cognitive function:
Supplements that may improve symptoms include:
Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.
Talk to your doctor about all herbs or supplements you are taking. Some may interact with your treatment plan or health conditions. Some supplements discussed here have certain concerns such as:
A1. Le Bars P. Conflicting results on ginkgo research. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2002;9:19-20.
A2. Napryeyenko O, Borzenko I. Ginkgo biloba special extract in dementia with neuropsychiatric features: a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Arzneimittelforschung. 2007;57:4-11.
A3. Scripnikov A, Khomenko A, Napryeyenko O. Effects of Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761® on neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia: findings from a randomised controlled trial. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2007;157:295-300.
A4. Dodge HH, Zitzelberger T, Oken BS, et al. A randomized placebo-controlled trial of ginkgo biloba for the prevention of cognitive decline. Neurology. 2008 Feb 27.
A5. Bornhoft G, Maxion-Bergemann S, Matthiessen PF. External validity of clinical trials for treatment of dementia with ginkgo biloba extracts.] Z Gerontol Geriatr. 2008 Mar 11.
A6. McCarney R, Fisher P, Iliffe S, et al. Ginkgo biloba for mild to moderate dementia in a community setting: a pragmatic, randomised, parallel-group, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2008 Jun 9.
A7. Birks J, Evans JG. Ginkgo biloba for cognitive impairment and dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2009;(1):CD003120.
A8. Weinmann S, Roll S, Schwarzbach C, Vauth C, Willich SN. Effects of Ginkgo biloba in dementia: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Geriatr. 2010;10:14.
B1. Thal LJ, Calvani M, Amato A, et al. A 1-year controlled trial of acetyl-l-carnitine in early-onset AD. Neurology. 2000;55:805-810.
B2. Zhang Z, Wang X, Chen Q, et al. Clinical efficacy and safety of huperzine Alpha in treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer disease, a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial. Zhonghua Yi Xue Za Zhi. 2002;82:941-944.
B3. Hudson S, Tabet N. Acetyl-l-carnitine for dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;CD003158.
B4. Lip GY, Lane DA, et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(3):CD004394.
B5. Malouf R, Grimley Evans J. The effect of vitamin B6 on cognition. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(4):CD004393.
B6. Montgomery SA, Thal LJ, Amrein R. Meta-analysis of double blind randomized controlled clinical trials of acetyl-L-carnitine versus placebo in the treatment of mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer's disease. Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2003;18:61-71.
B7. Szatmari SZ, Whitehouse PJ. Vinpocetine for cognitive impairment and dementia [review]. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;CD003119.
B8. Freund-Levi YF, Eriksdotter-Jonhagen M, Cederholm T, et al. Omega-3 fatty acid treatment in 174 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer disease: OmegAD Study. Arch Neurol. 2006;63:1402-1408.
B9. Jansen SL, Forbes DA, et al. Melatonin for cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jan 25;(1).
B10. Freund-Levi Y, Basun H, Cederholm T, et al. Omega-3 supplementation in mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: effects on neuropsychiatric symptoms. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2007 Jun 21. [Epub ahead of print]
B12. Aisen PS, Schneider LS, et al. High-dose B vitamin supplementation and cognitive decline in Alzheimer disease: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2008 Oct 15;300(15):1774-1783.
B13. Jia X, McNeill G, Avenell A. Does taking vitamin, mineral and fatty acid supplements prevent cognitive decline? A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2008;21:317-336.
B14. Li J, Wu HM, Zhou RL, Liu GJ, Dong BR. Huperzine A for Alzheimer's disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008;(2):CD005592.
B15. Riemersma-van der Lek RF, Swaab DF, Twisk J, et al. Effect of bright light and melatonin on cognitive and noncognitive function in elderly residents of group care facilities: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2008;299:2642-2655.
B16. Ford AH, Flicker L, Alfonso H, et al. Vitamins B(12), B(6), and folic acid for cognition in older men. Neurology. 2010;75(17):1540-1547.
B17. Andreeva VA, Kesse-Guyot E, et al. Cognitive function after supplementation with B vitamins and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: ancillary findings from the SU.FOL.OM3 randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jul;94(1):278-286.
B18. Jansen S, Forbes D, Duncan V, Morgan D, Malouf R. Melatonin for the treatment of dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(1):CD003802.
B19. Rodriguez-Martin JL, Qizilbash N, et al. Thiamine for Alzheimer’s disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(2):CD001498.
B20. Farina N, Isaac MG, et al. Vitamin E for Alzheimer’s dementia and mild cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Nov 14;11:CD002854.
B21. Sydenham E, Dangour AD, et al. Omega 3 fatty acid for the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jun 13;(6): CD005379.
B22. Dysken MW, Sano M, et al. Effect of vitamin E and memantine on functional decline in Alzheimer disease: the TEAM-AD VA cooperative randomized trial. JAMA. 2014 Jan 1;311(1)33-44.
B23. Van der Zwaluw NL, Dhonukshe-Rutten RA, et al. Results of a 2-year vitamin B treatment of cognitive performance: secondary data from an RCT. Neurology. 2014 Dec 2;83(23):2158-2166.
Last reviewed February 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board
Richard Glickman-Simon, MD
Last Updated: 2/22/2019