Much of the research on ­Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia focuses on pharmaceuticals, which often fail to reduce risk for dementia or improve symptoms. Problem: About one-third of people who live to age 80 or older suffer from dementia. 

Good news: Licensed acupuncturist and certified herbalist Michael Edson says there are safe, gentle, nondrug therapies that help delay the onset of symptoms and slow their progression…approaches that are supported by a growing body of evidence. His four favorites*…

Juicing

Every minute of the day, you are exposed to environmental toxins, such as smoke and pollution. Your body also produces toxins as it goes about the very important job of keeping you alive. These toxins, known as free radicals, essentially “rust” your brain’s wiring. Antioxidants—which are abundant in fruits and vegetables—neutralize free radicals, preventing them from causing damage. 

Finding: Studies of centenarians have linked a high-antioxidant diet with reduced free radical damage and lower incidence of dementia. 

Juicing or smoothie making concentrates a high amount of neuroprotective antioxidants into a tasty beverage. Start with green leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale. Then add a handful or two of berries. Berries and pomegranate are high in polyphenolic compounds, most prominently ­anthocyanins, which have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Other brain-healthy vegetables to include are broccoli, avocado and red beets. Other healthful fruits include apples, black currant, citrus (especially lemon), kiwi and grapes. For even more brain-healthy nutrients, add some garlic, ginger, chia seeds, parsley, ginseng, walnuts, yogurt, coconut oil and/or honey. Experiment to find your favorite ­combinations

Antioxidant supplements

In addition to an antioxidant-rich diet, those with a family history of dementia also should consider taking these supplements…

Acetyl-L-carnitine. Several Alzheimer’s medications work by increasing this neurotransmitter. It is vital for processing memory, learning and focus but is decreased in people with Alzheimer’s. ­Acetyl-L-carnitine fuels the production of acetylcholine. It also reduces the buildup of dementia-­predisposing waste products in the brain. Acetyl-L-carnitine is found in meat, fish, poultry, milk, nuts, seeds, cheese, asparagus and broccoli. Taking a 500-milligram (mg) supplement daily on an empty stomach will ensure that you get enough.

Curcumin. This spice increases the production of new brain cells. It also may slow age-related cognitive decline by inhibiting the buildup of beta-amyloid plaques, clumps of proteins that accumulate between neurons and, over time, can interrupt cell function and pave the way for Alzheimer’s. Curcumin gives curry powder its golden hue. This may help explain why the rate of Alzheimer’s is so low in India—just 1% of those age 65 and over have it. Try a daily 500-mg to 1,200-mg supplement.

Ashwagandha root extract, also known as Indian ginseng. Chemical changes in the brain caused by chronic stress reduce brain plasticity. This, in turn, can kick-start an irreversible cascade of neuronal death, a characteristic of many brain diseases including dementia. Ashwagandha may reduce neuronal death and beta-amyloid buildup.

Ashwagandha leaves are thought to enhance cognitive performance. Scientific evidence: In one study, ­subjects either took 300 mg of ­ashwagandha twice daily or a placebo for eight weeks. At the end of the study, those in the ­ashwagandha group showed greater improvements in both im­mediate and general memory as well as improved executive function, ­attention and information-processing speed. Try 300 mg twice per day, taken with meals.

Vitamin D, zinc and magnesium. Low levels of the first two may result in cognitive difficulty and learning impairment and even may mimic symptoms of dementia. Most seniors have been found to be significantly deficient in vitamin D—a blood test can determine your level. Higher magnesium levels have been associated with a lower risk for dementia. Recommended: 5,000 IU/day of vitamin D…40 mg/day of zinc…and 500 mg/day of magnesium.

Essential oils

Certain essential oils have been shown to support memory and cognition…boost circulation…reduce inflammation…reduce anxiety…and support healthy sleep, all critical for avoiding dementia.

Lemon balm.This bright, sunny scent has been shown to improve cognitive function in patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. Lemon balm also has been used for centuries as a calming agent. Used at night, it can help promote sleep. 

Why sleep matters: In the short term, inadequate sleep (less than seven hours a night) can lead to forgetfulness and other cognitive impairment. During sleep, the events of the day are consolidated and turned into memories…and accumulated waste products in the brain are flushed away. It’s believed that this cleaning process is linked with a lower dementia risk because clumps of these same waste products typically are found in ­the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. 

Frankincense. This iconic Christmastime scent has been shown to increase communication between neurons in the hippocampus, one of the brain’s memory hubs. It also may help enhance concentration and focus and even promote sleep.

Rosemary. This essential oil contains several compounds shown to enhance long-term memory. Scientific evidence: In a British study, 150 healthy individuals over age 65 were divided among three rooms—one scented with rosemary, one with lavender, one unscented—where they were presented with a series of memory challenges. Those smelling rosemary experienced significantly improved memory compared with the others. 

How to use oils: Dilute one drop of a quality essential oil brand such as Rocky Mountain Oils, ­dŌTERRA or Aura Cacia in one teaspoon of a carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil. Apply to the skin of your neck, above the eyebrows, temples, behind the earlobes, chest and ­abdomen, arms, legs and/or bottoms of feet. Alternatively, use a diffuser to disperse the scent in your room.

Important: Before full application, apply a small amount of diluted oil to the skin and check for an allergic reaction after at least 24 hours. 

Socialize

Poor social engagement was linked with significantly increased dementia rates in a recent review of 33 studies encompassing nearly 2.4 million people.

Socializing—even via a video or phone call—provides mental stimulation. It also reduces feelings of loneliness, which are stressful and inflammatory. In fact, loneliness is associated with a two-fold increase in incidence of dementia.

*Combine these with a healthy, whole-foods–based diet and plenty of aerobic exercise. Stop smoking if you currently smoke. Discuss any supplements and dietary changes with your doctor, particularly if you are on blood-thinning medications or have low blood pressure.