Within the last decade, holistic therapies have become increasingly popular treatment options for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. While holistic therapies, such as art therapy, aromatherapy, sensory stimulation and others, do not cure memory loss, they can provide remarkable benefits in individual function, comfort and overall well-being.
Heat therapy, also called far infrared radiation therapy (FIR), has been used for centuries and more recently to improve physical and mental health. In 2012, clinical trials discovered that heat therapy is an effective way to improve cognitive functioning, mood and even memory recall among people with mild to moderate memory loss.
According to Lonette Bentley, Executive Director at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, a memory care assisted living community in Pensacola, Florida, seniors living with dementia are frequently in need of the type of support that treatments like heat therapy provide.
“As memory loss progresses, it can cause a person to withdraw socially and physically,” says Bentley. “Their language skills diminish, and they require new methods of relaxation and connection with others. A dementia patient left alone with their deteriorating mind, unengaged with the world around them, will likely suffer from anxiety and depression, among other physical conditions. On the other hand, those who engage in holistic therapies have the chance to interact with others, take part in social constructs and learn new ways to communicate. They experience better physical and emotional health thanks to simple therapies that are easy for caregivers to implement daily.”
Understanding Heat Therapy
Heat therapy utilizes the spectrum of invisible infrared light. When you feel the heat from the sun, you’re experiencing infrared light. Through the use of saunas, heating pads, heat lamps or special fabrics, individuals can capture infrared light for its health benefits. While the typical senior may lack access to a sauna, heating pads and heat lamps that produce infrared light are fairly inexpensive and appropriate for individual use. Infrared clothing and bedding, including joint wraps, socks, blankets and pillows, are designed with special fabrics that naturally emit infrared heat.
Far infrared therapy produces low energy that deeply penetrates the body (up to three inches) to benefit muscles, joints and internal organs. This gentle heat can provide relief to chronic pain that seniors often experience. Heat therapy can also help individuals who suffer from arthritis, muscle pain and spasms, and joint stiffness. In addition to pain relief, heat therapy provides other healing benefits, such as:
- Removing toxins from the body (perspiration)
- Relieving tension and stress
- Increasing blood circulation in deep tissues
- Improved immune system
- Facilitating the healing process
We all know that when our bodies feel better, our minds feel better, too. Especially for those with neurological conditions, the relief from physical pain can do wonders for their mental health as well.
How Heat Therapy Benefits Those with Dementia
In 2012, two researchers discovered that infrared heat therapy could improve memory function in mice. They pursued clinical trials on patients with mild to moderate dementia to study how infrared exposure affected patients’ blood flow to the brain, oxygenation and the removal of toxic proteins that are thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease. With brief daily exposure to infrared light (just six minutes a day), the researchers found that the functional, emotional and cognitive behavioral symptoms of their dementia improved significantly. They claim that infrared heat therapy actually intervenes to remove toxic proteins and regenerate healthy cell growth.
Patients in the clinical trial showed increasing behavioral improvements, including reduced stress and anxiety, increased energy and mood elevation. Patients became more alert physically and could recall events better based on what they saw. As they grew more physically active, they participated in more social events.
Although this study certainly requires further research of a wider base in order to be absolutely certain of the benefits for dementia patients, the results so far are promising. An advantage to heat therapy is that there are no side effects one experiences with pharmacological treatments, and no harmful effects occurred. Even if it turns out that heat therapy isn’t an intervention for dementia and cognitive decline, those with memory loss can still benefit from the physical and emotional effects of heat therapy.
Caring for the Whole Person
“At Clarity Pointe Pensacola, we care for the well-being of the entire person, not just their dementia symptoms,” says Bentley. “Holistic therapies such as heat therapy help us achieve this goal by providing a variety of opportunities for stress relief, human connection, self-expression and comfort. All of these benefits and more come together to boost our care and support of each resident’s physical needs. We understand that a resident is not defined by their memory loss, and it’s our duty to care for every part of their being.”
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia and would like to know more about holistic treatments or how to use heat therapy at home, contact Clarity Pointe for support. We’re happy to help you provide the best care possible for your loved one with memory loss.
Clarity Pointe … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three free-standing, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.