You’ve heard the expression “this is as much of an art as it is a science.” This was never as true as in our research on CranioSacral Therapy and Dementia and Alzheimer’s. I learned in the process of coordinating this study that a scientific study is not just all white lab coats and clipboards. There is a lot of subjective “behind the scenes” observation and assessment.
One of the things I begin to notice as I would check in on the patients in our six-week study is their starting point. If you’ve been around a Dementia or Alzheimer’s patient you notice how withdrawn and deeply inside their psyche they seem to be. Having also worked with a number of autistic and cerebral palsy children, I was also familiar with that withdrawn, “hard to get to” mental place. Although the mechanism of why these kids display their symptoms is a bit different, the outcome is the same-lack of connection and communication with the outside world.
We began to notice that about halfway through our six-week Alzheimer’s study the patients started to change-get more interactive, more cognizant, more changes in verbal and social behavior. I began to ask our key investigator, “Do any of these patients have any prior disease process or history?” It was as if I’d asked the stupidest question in the world. “Of course” was the answer.
It turned out when I was able to examine the medical history of these patients that many of them displayed indications of sometimes decades old inflammatory processes diabetes, arthritis, and a whole host of problems that we commonly associated with the aging process. I would notice that our subjects seemed to be sitting on a mountain of accumulated issues, and as the momentum of our 5-10 minute daily treatments took hold, not only would they display momentary clarity but also begin to process and release restrictions that might have been lodging in the body for decades. We had one 100-year-old woman in a nursing home in Minneapolis who started speaking in complete sentences and was able to start feeding herself.
In my own experience of treating early onset dementia I found a common first response is that patients feel more relaxed and less anxious. This is also something the caregivers and family members notice as well. The less stress there is on the body, the healthier the immune system and the greater the fluid flow.
Another effect we noticed was that family members and caregivers were able to have much more interaction with the patients. As the patients began to retrieve some memory of who they were speaking with, sometimes surprised caregivers had the opportunity to interact in a more meaningful way. This is not usually the case in the degeneration that is associated with this condition. Our hope is that continued application of these CST Techniques will offer even more improvement.
Through my teaching of CranioSacral Therapy and my study of natural healing practices over the last 20 years, I’ve become aware that in many “traditional” cultures the elders are an integral part of the family, the culture, and the web of life. The elders are, in essence, a resource for the younger generation. I was so struck by this reality that one day I will publish a book entitled “Honor the Elders, Rituals and Ceremonies Throughout All Stages of Life.”
It was upon this realization that I begin to think, “How could CranioSacral Therapy assist the aging population to transition in an easier, graceful manner as their chronological age advances?” Having a stepmother in an Alzheimer’s unit in California and, later on, a sister-in-law who succumbed to some of the same symptoms, I began to think that CranioSacral Therapy (CST) might be a key for their challenges. About this same time my mentor, Dr. John Upledger, wrote an article about the circulation of Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF) in the brain, and how even middle to aging adults had half the circulation of their younger counterparts.
There are many coincidences that seem to occur in CranioSacral work. In my case, I had some clients and associates who were retired Professors of Nursing at the University of Iowa. With their help and research they confirmed Dr. Upledger’s findings, and found, even more to the case, that circulation of CSF in patients with Dementia and Alzheimer’s was even less than that of aging adults, even half again as much. To put a number to this, a normal adult produces 800ml a day of CSF, a “middle age” person perhaps 400ml a day, and a person with Dementia and Alzheimer’s 200ml a day.
We quickly began to assess the implications of this lack of CSF flow in the brain. You see, CSF has a “chelating” or washing action which helps removes heavy metals across the blood brain barrier. In addition, immune system factors, which in a normal adult keep the brain free and clear of inflammation, become compromised when CSF flow is lessened. We began to think that if we could somehow increase the flow of CSF in at-risk patients or patients in any stage of Dementia, would it have a positive effect?
Well, it turns out there is one tried and true CST technique that accomplishes just this. It’s called the Still Point. It increases the flow of CSF in any client. We designed a 6-week study to assess the effect of CST on agitation in patients in various stages of Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Agitation is one measure that any institution would like to manage better if they could. Published in 2008, our study shows that regular application of this CST Technique has clinical and statistical significance.
That’s how CSG2 came into being. Building on this research we want to get the information out to the public-to laypeople, caregivers, therapists and others who treat this population.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s or Dementia. By their own admission, Pharmaceutical companies admit their products can only mange the symptoms for some amount of time. However, the Craniosacral perspective does offer encouragement.
As we mentioned in Part 1, there are two factors from a craniosacral perspective which we feel contribute to Dementia and Alzheimer’s:
- A decrease in production of Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF)
- An increase in the inflammatory response in the body over time.
Increase in CSF Production: In a study published in the American Journal of Gerontological Nursing in 2008, (Craniosacral Stillpoint Technique: Exploring its effects in Individuals with Dementia) we reported that the regular administration of a cranial technique called a still point had positive results over an extended period of time in patients with moderate to severe Dementia.
Decrease of the inflammatory response: Along with “pumping up the volume” of CSF, Craniosacral therapy and allied techniques have the effect of calming the body and lowering body wide inflammatory response, which again may be a precursor to dementia being exhibited as a symptom.
In our pilot study on Dementia and Alzheimer’s, we took individuals from a rest home and evaluated how the simple application of CST, with the application of what is called a “still point” made a difference in their lives. It would be enough to prevent the progression of this disease from one stage to another. We actually saw clinical and statistical significance-based on an intervention with CST-measuring the impact before during and after the study. The bottom line is that the effect of CST “lingered” even after the intervention stopped. As we continue our research, we are investigating how CST might not just slow or stay the progression of the disease, but even reverse some of the effects. One anecdote from the study-a 100-year-old woman in a nursing home in Minneapolis was able to feed herself and began to speak in sentences over a 6-week period of time.
Prevention, Treatment, CST & Geriatrics
CranioSacral Therapy as a preventative measure is highly recommended. We feel the influence of CST on patients with Dementia and Alzheimer’s, no matter what stage they may be at, is so effective that we are developing a class to train caregivers and therapists. The class is called CranioSacral Therapy and Geriatrics-a 2 day class to train laypeople and therapists in treating individuals who also show signs or who actively display symptoms of Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Pathology of the Disease Process
There are a number of theories as to how Dementia and Alzheimer’s develops. I will briefly share the CNN perspective and the Craniosacral Perspective on this as well. Understanding how this happens has also given us “clues” as to how to prevent or possibly reverse the process…
A number of experts on Larry’s special shared their views on how Dementia and Alzheimer’s develops. Researchers aren’t entirely sure, but the convention wisdom is a combination of diet, mental inactivity, inflammatory processes in the brain, genetics and simply getting less flexible, otherwise known as getting older. Think of aging as less flexible, “more creaky” if you will. The more flexible you are, the younger you are more likely to be, in mind, body and spirit.
Dr. John Upledger has given a more detailed insight into the pathology of Dementia, based on his extensive understanding of biochemistry, the inflammatory processes in the body, and immune system microbiology. He points out that the formation of amyloid “plaques” inside the brain (a key indicator of advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s) may be a “by product” of the immune system trying to defend itself from what it perceives as an “intruder” in the brain. Immune system cells begin to attack brain tissue and generate an inflammatory response, and further generate “pro inflammatory cytokines” which in turn generate even greater inflammation inside the brain. The result is:
- Micro inflammation (and swelling) of the brain followed by
- Shrinkage of the brain-fluid pathways are destroyed and ultimately CST circulation is decreased.
Oh, and by the way, this also effectively destroys the brain tissue (including axons and synapses) that conducts electrical/chemical flow and form the neuronal network that creates our “holistic” memory, images, and “recollection.”
Simply put, our ability to remember-both short and long term-is diminished as this network is progressively destroyed. The long-term consequences of this usually result in a shortened life span as well.
This 3 part blog on the Larry King CNN Special on Alzheimer’s points out some key elements on risk factors, the pathology of the disease process, and suggestions for prevention and treatment. I will counterpoint key elements of the special with comments on how our research with CranioSacral Therapy complements and enhances these views.
From the Larry King special on Alzheimer’s:
“If this is not dealt with, this will cripple the healthcare system.” President Reagan’s Alzheimer’s doctor.
“By the time you’re 85, it’s a coin toss as to whether or not you will have it.” Ron Reagan
“They look like your parent but they become your child.” Maria Shriver
“For caregivers, make sure they don’t do it alone.” Laura Bush
It is estimated that caregivers (estimated to be 15 million people) spend an average of 202 billion hours annually supporting their loved one.
The following is from a compilation of sources relating to risk and environmental factors that seem to contribute to Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Larry King mentioned some of these, but some have also been added:
Environmental and Risk factors:
1. Women have double the risk of being affected with Alzheimer’s in later life than men.
2. Dietary factors are high-calorie/high-fat diets, excessive amounts of dietary iron and copper, and low intake of folic acids/folates and antioxidative nutrients such as Vitamins C & E.
3. Low demands on intellectual function, which seem to correlate with increased occurrences of Alzheimer’s.
4. Sedentary Lifestyle. Mental and physical exercise seems to help.
5. History of head trauma.
6. Increased oxidative stress that heightens oxidative damage in the brain tissue
To compliment the above view, from a craniosacral perspective, we have two additional components to add to this list of risk factors:
A. Decreased flow of Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF) in an aging population.
B. Increased incidence of inflammatory response in aging humans.
Let’s look at both of these in turn.
Decreased flow of Cerebral Spinal Fluid in Aging Population: A number of years ago, Dr. Upldeger (the founder of CranioSacral Therapy) commented that the “turnover” of CSF in middle age adults (the definition of which keeps changing) may be half that of normal healthy younger adults. Our additional research has shown that in elders with Dementia and Alzheimer’s, the flow of CSF is again half as much. To put numbers to this, normal CSF flow is 800ml a day, which may decrease to 400ml daily, and in Dementia and Alzheimer’s, down to 200ml a day.
Why is this important? CSF has a “washing” action, which removes heavy metals across the blood brain barrier. The less flow there is the more opportunity there is for the brain to “clog up” with plaques, tangles, and other factors typical of the memory loss and eventual overall decline found in Alzheimer’s patients.
Increased incidence of inflammatory response in aging humans: Simply put, as we age many people accumulate “pockets of inflammation” in the body that are a result of disease processes such as Arthritis, Osteoporosis, Diabetes, Cardiovascular disease and the like. In some cases, that ongoing inflammation “overflows” across the blood brain barrier and begins to compromise the brain tissue. In many of the patients in our research project, we found prior disease states to be a part of their history.