I’ve been treating a 95 year old woman with Alzheimer’s. In the past, she’s depended on her daughter to take care of her and manage her affairs as she drifts more and more into an endless present. However, with the Shutdown orders during the Covid pandemic, she was suddenly forced to take more responsibility for her daily tasks. This was a struggle for her, as she would often set things down, then forget where she had placed them, one time searching for her posture brace for several minutes before realizing she was wearing it!
I started her on a standard formula for memory (gui pi tang), and she seemed to improve. She had more focus, and could manage her daily tasks on her own, she even began teaching herself to use a smartphone! However, amidst the pandemic, we had difficulty getting the same brand of herbs for her, so we substituted the same formula from a different brand.
The difference was immediate. Suddenly, and quite dramatically, she went back to the way she was. She would forget not only to do her tasks, but where her tasks were written. This was frustrating, and disappointing for both her and her daughter, especially since she had recently been so much better. So, I had to get to the root of the problem.
And well, the root of the problem turned out to in fact be a root. The two formulas were identical in their composition, and 11 of the 12 herbs were exactly the same. But what about that one herb difference? The first brand had used Ren shen (Panax ginseng), while the replacement used a cheaper substitute Dang shen (Codonopsis pilosulae). Since everything else was the same, I deduced that this was the key that had resulted, first in her improvement, then in her decline.
I had the daughter get her mother some ginseng tablets, and sure enough, she started to get better again. When the order for the original formula finally arrived, she improved a little more. Herbs haven’t been a miracle, but they do allow her to manage her daily affairs, and take some of the burden off her daughter. Sometimes improvements in medicine come from a combination of many factors working together, but sometimes, a single herb can make all the difference!
David Dick, L. Ac., DAOM