A review of existing evidence suggests that acupuncture may be linked to benefits for people with early memory and thinking problems, but that more evidence is required due to concerns about the methods used in the original studies. The analysis is published on Thursday 4 August in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine.
Researchers at Wuhan University in China, looked at data from five trials of acupuncture involving a total of total of 568 people. Each trial set out to test the effects of acupuncture on people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) – memory and thinking problems which are less severe than dementia but can lead onto the condition. Three of the five studies compared the effect of acupuncture against a drug called nimodipine, the remaining two studied the effect of acupuncture when used together with nimodipine. Nimodopine affects blood pressure and, while it may be given to help treat neurological problems following a stroke, it is it is not used to treat memory problems more generally.
Overall the analysis indicated some benefits for people who had acupuncture – either alone or alongside nimodipine – when compared to those taking nimodipine alone. However, the researchers called for additional research into the area due to the very small number of existing research studies and concerns about the design of these trials.
Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Having mild cognitive impairment doesn’t guarantee that someone will go on to develop dementia, but we know that it puts people at a higher risk. With current treatments for memory loss and dementia being so limited, it is important that researchers explore a range approaches that could help people to live better with the symptoms they’re experiencing. Research that combines data from multiple studies often helps to produce the clearest overview of whether an intervention is working, but these analyses are only ever as good as the research on which they are based. In this case there is good reason to be concerned about the quality of some of the original data, which makes it very difficult to draw firm conclusions on the potential benefits of acupuncture for people with early memory problems.
“Anyone who is worried that they might be experiencing memory problems should speak to their GP. Healthcare professionals are best placed to determine whether there is any cause for concern and make sure the most appropriate sources of help and support are available.”