Many people are confused about the terms senility, dementia and Alzheimer’s. The terms are often lumped together under the overarching tent of dementia, with senility seeming to be on the lower and milder end of a continuum and Alzheimer’s being at the higher or more profoundly affected end of that same spectrum.
While the term “senility” is no longer popular among conventional medical professionals, further confusion arises when we are told that there are many other cognitive disorders associated with aging that fall under this rubric like, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, Frontal-temporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob syndrome, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Pick’s disease and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome to name a few.
Based on many years of research and clinical experience I have come to understand that the conventional medical model of the decline of the internal organs and the brain does not fully describe the causes and circumstances of senility, dementia and conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Traditional Chinese medicine tells us that birth, growth, youthful vigor and the decline and debility of aging are all related to the relative balance of Qi (bio-energy) and blood. In fact the chief mechanism of senility and related conditions is the loss of harmony of Qi and blood and those disharmonies and imbalances are mainly due to what Chinese doctors refer to as blood stasis.
Blood stasis simply means that the blood is not transported to where it is needed because it is physically blocked; certain components of blood are missing or incomplete, or there is a combination of blockage and deficient blood factors.
Physical blockage of blood can be due to many causes, vessels may experience narrowing or collapse, there may be occlusions such as accumulations of fats or plaque deposits within the vessels causing atherosclerosis and there may be frank blood clots. Frequently we see some combination of weakened vessel walls and narrowing due to deposits as major causative factors.
Qi and blood are the basic substances that constitute the human body and maintain the activities of life. Qi is the basis for all metabolic and physiological functions and blood is fundamental to constructing, enriching, moistening and nourishing the body. Without blood there is no Qi and without Qi the blood cannot perform its functions.
The Qi mechanism is responsible for getting the blood to where it is needed. The heart Qi in particular has that duty along with the governance of the entire vascular system. With advancing years the Qi and blood tend to undergo pathological changes such as loss of balance, stasis and obstruction which may lead to the occurrence of various diseases and senility of the organism.
The constituent blood factors are referred to as essence. In Chinese medicine these factors can be everything from vitamins and minerals to various types of blood cells, Ph levels and body salts. Essence is the broad spectrum of these components and is part of what the Chinese refer to as the “three treasures” which are Qi, blood and essence. If any of these treasures are in decline disease is soon to follow.
Chinese medicine looks to signs and symptoms to tell us what systems are affected in order to determine treatment principles. Changes in what we term “spirit and spirit orientation” include cognitive ability, memory, positive outlook and adaptation to change. This is probably the most important symptom and may be seen alone or along with palpitations, chest pain, stroke or hemiplegia, cough and asthma, dizziness, vertigo, difficult sleep, hair loss, diminished visual acuity and auditory power, senile patches (aka liver spots), varicosity, fatigue, poor appetite, edema, impotence, numbness, aching and body pain. These symptoms may occur singly or in groups and lead us to determine the type of condition and kind of treatment.
Preventative treatment is always our first choice but we can treat most conditions at any stage of the continuum. Next time our focus will be on prevention using dietary therapy, exercise and Chinese herbal medicines.
Yours in good health,
Robert Kienitz, DTCM