Dementia is a general term used to describe a set of symptoms characterized by the deterioration of cognitive function. Dementia tends to develop later in life, mostly affecting the elderly. The World Health Organization estimates that there are nearly 10 million new cases of dementia each year and more than 55 million people living with it worldwide. According to statistics from Dementia Australia, there are an estimated 472,000 people living with dementia in Australia, a number that is expected to increase to over 1 million by the year 2058. Of those living with dementia worldwide, women outnumber men two to one.
The Dementia Landscape
The loss of cognitive and psychological functions is due to the loss of or damage to nerve cells and their connections within the brain. Where this damage occurs can highly influence the different symptoms experienced by patients. There are various known forms of progressive dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, age-related brain disorder that is thought to develop over a period of years. There are also other forms of dementia, such as frontotemporal dementia, vascular dementia, and Lewy body dementia. Each of these types of dementia is characterised by its own set of cognitive and behavioral issues.
Signs of Dementia
While with every patient the exact symptoms of dementia may differ, some of the most common symptoms and signs of dementia include changes in cognitive and psychological aspects. Below you can find a list of the most common cognitive and psychological changes that may be signs of dementia.
- • Personality changes
- • Depression
- • Anxiety
- • Agitation
- • Hallucinations
- • Paranoia
- • Difficulty with reasoning, problem solving, or handling complex tasks
- • Loss of coordination
- • Increased disorientation or confusion
- • Increased memory loss, often noticeable by outside parties
When Should You Seek Help for Dementia?
If you feel that you or a loved one may have dementia or are experiencing a combination of the symptoms listed above, it is highly advisable to seek medical consultation. When experiencing these symptoms, it is important to determine the cause as quickly as possible as they may be due to medical conditions that can be treated. In the case of dementia, however, there is unfortunately no known cure at this time.
How Is Dementia Diagnosed?
To diagnose dementia, a doctor will have to thoroughly define the pattern of a person’s deterioration of function and skills as well as determine a person’s current abilities. To make an accurate dementia diagnosis, doctors may perform cognitive and neuropsychological tests as well as brain scans, psychiatric evaluations, laboratory tests, and neurological evaluations. Thankfully due to progression in research surrounding Alzheimer’s disease (AD), biomarkers are starting to become available to help provide a more accurate diagnosis.
The Endocannabinoid System & Dementia
There have been several studies that have concluded that the endocannabinoid system plays a major role in neuropathology, neurobiology, and neurotransmission of dementia. A review of clinical and preclinical data surrounding cannabinoids and dementia concluded that there are “several lines of evidence that have demonstrated the role of cannabinoids in dementia.” This review also urged the need for pursuing the use of cannabinoid compounds in the field of dementia treatment. A study titled “Targeting the Endocannabinoid System in Alzheimer’s Disease” concluded that “Inflammation and oxidative stress are generally accepted as a critical risk factor for the development of AD, and intervention such as cannabinoids that attenuate these risks without arresting microglial activity and have innate neuroprotective benefits are attractive as potential preventative treatments for AD.”
Traditional Treatments for Dementia
Traditional treatments for dementia include medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors that boost the levels of chemical messengers within the brain that increase memory and judgment functions, as well as memantine and other medications to address common accompanying symptoms and conditions such as sleep issues, hallucinations, agitation, and depression. Sometimes therapies such as occupational therapy will be employed in addition to modifying the patient’s environment and simplifying their daily tasks.
Plant Therapies for Dementia – Clinical Trial Synopsis
Currently, researchers at the University of Notre Dame are recruiting individuals that have been diagnosed with dementia for a randomised, double-blind, crossover placebo-based clinical trial that will investigate the effects of medicinal cannabis on behavioral symptoms in dementia patients. To learn more about inclusion criteria or to register your interest in this clinical study, see the official details here.
To see if you are eligible for plant-based therapies, you can book a telehealth appointment with one of our specialist doctors through Cannatrek Access.