‘Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. As Alzheimer’s progresses, individuals may also experience changes in personality and behaviour, such as anxiety, suspiciousness or agitation, as well as delusions or hallucinations’. 18 The part of the brain that controls memory and thinking are affected first, but as the disease makes progress, cells are destroyed in other areas of the brain.
Even if the individual has no other serious illness, the loss of brain function itself will eventually cause death. Research carried out by William Rossi states that the modern shoe could actually be the only cause of Alzheimer’s disease, because he considers it to be the only thing ‘capable of robbing a person of the essence of their humanity’19, both symbolically and physically. He argues that the foot is responsible for our distinguishing human traits amongst Nature, and that each person is born with a totally individual and unique footprint.
Years of wearing shoes can considerably alter this “essence” of humanity, so could it climax in a total loss of an individual’s unique personality? It is also worth noting that women’s footwear is physically more deforming to the feet – high heels, pointy toes, and small sizes, and Alzheimer’s disease is disproportionately more common to women than men. A German woman was Dr. Alzheimer’s first clinical instance of the disease in 1901. He recorder that she also suffered with general nervousness and a poor weight-symptoms that are also related to footwear use20.
This revolutionary significant case occurred only a few decades after modern shoes started become popular in America and Europe. The first Alzheimer’s patient was diagnosed on May 16, 1850, which was the last year that shoes were made completely by hand. The following pictures are of habitually bare feet, and are from a study conducted over 100 years ago, and published in 1905 in the American Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery, which looked at the feet of native people in the Philippines and Central Africa, who had never worn shoes21.
Dr Hoffman’s studies show that a line can be drawn through the heel, ball, and big toe of a regularly bare foot. The little toes open out naturally in a fan to offer a wide, stable platform for walking or standing. The following image, also taken from the 1905 study, shows that our feet are shaped more like our shoes. No such line can be drawn, and the little toes crowd to a point-a comparatively unstable, narrow base for walking or standing. So how would reflexology be of benefit to an Alzheimer’s patient? First and foremost it is relaxing.
The Daily Mail produced an article on the benefits of reflexology and stated in it that ‘Alzheimer’s patients saw a reduction in body stiffness and arthritis as well as alleviation of the illness’s symptoms of restlessness and wandering’. 22 This type of illness can be very frustrating to the patient, and by relaxing and decreasing stress the body is brought back into balance allowing healing energy to flow. Reflexology also helps improve circulation. It is my belief that by increasing oxygen flow and waste product removal, the degradation of the brain cells may be slowed down.
In relation to William Rossi’s work, if stress on the feet could cause so much distress to the mind, is it not possible that pampering and relaxation of the feet could in turn help to alleviate some of the associated stress within the mind? Also, physical stress and exertion on the body is known to reduce levels of Acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter which aids memory – this is notoriously low in Alzheimer’s patients), by not only decreasing production, but also increasing the activity of the enzymes that destroy it23.
This helps to validate Rossi’s theory that Alzheimer’s is a stress related condition. It is also known that the lymphatic glands have Acetylcholine receptors that measure the levels of Acetylcholine in our bodies, and regulates them24. I would like to see some research into whether the stimulation of these glands, through reflexology or other means, can help the body to recognise these low levels and increase production in cholinoceptive cells.