Receiving an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis is profoundly upending, for both sufferers and family members. Currently, nearly 6 million American’s are living with Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s is one of many forms of dementia and accounts for the bulk of dementia diagnoses. It’s a progressive, irreversible disease—one that worsens as time goes on. Alzheimer’s isn’t, as many people believe, normal cognitive decline associated with aging.
Currently, Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., and the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that by 2050, 14 million people will have Alzheimer’s disease.
Because there’s currently no cure, researchers continue to look for medicines that will help ease symptoms or make living with Alzheimer’s a little easier for patients and caregivers.
Recently, there’s been interest in the role cannabidiol (CBD) may play in helping manage the disease. Let’s take a look at some of the most promising research and investigate how you can safely incorporate CBD into a comprehensive Alzheimer’s protocol.
The First Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Getting an accurate diagnosis is essential for anyone facing cognitive or memory issues. The first symptoms of Alzheimer’s are usually related to memory loss, things like:
- Forgetting names
- Trouble accessing specific words
- Changes in the ability to work or perform daily activities
Many things can cause memory problems—from stress to certain medications—so finding a doctor experienced in diagnosing Alzheimer’s is critical in order to discover the source of memory issues.
Folks who receive an early diagnosis generally fare much better, as do their loved ones, who often bear the burden of becoming long-term caregivers. Some medications, such as Galantamine and Namenda, are designed to forestall the most severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s. But these drugs don’t work for everyone, and their effectiveness is only temporary.
As Time Goes on, Alzheimer’s Symptoms Become More Severe
Moderate and late-stage Alzheimer’s disease symptoms include serious challenges like:
- Inconsistent sleep patterns
These symptoms can result in people becoming lost, anxious or combatant.
Another hard aspect of the disease is that communicating about pain symptoms can decrease as verbal skills decline, and many late-stage Alzheimer’s sufferers often lose the ability to walk or talk completely.
Your Brain on Alzheimer’s: A Tangled Web of Proteins
Two protein structures—plaques and tangles—which are foreign to a healthy brain are usually found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Plaques form deposits that take up space between nerve cells. Tangles are a different type of protein fiber, which reside inside brain cells.
These two disruptive protein structures compromise normal communication between cells, resulting in the death of brain cells. It’s the death of these cells that creates the devastating symptoms of Alzheimer’s—changes that decrease a person’s ability to communicate, remember and live a normal life.
The Latest Research on CBD for Alzheimer’s Disease
One of the best pieces of news for all Americans is the 2018 passage of the Farm Bill. The fact that the U.S. now has access to legal hemp will enable additional research on hemp-based CBD. This will increase our knowledge of how CBD may be targeted for specific medical conditions.
It will take at least a few years for hemp-based Alzheimer’s research to emerge, but a 2014 Australian study shows a great deal of promise. The study found that CBD was shown to “reverse cognitive deficits” in mice. It also found that CBD provided neuroprotective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It was the first study to show CBD’s potential as a preventative treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
In the United Kingdom, King’s College researchers are currently recruiting Alzheimer’s patients willing to use the cannabis-based drug Sativex, to determine if it will reduce symptoms of aggression and agitation.
A 2014 Israeli study showed that mice injected with a molecule from humans with Alzheimer’s measurably improved in functioning after only one week of treatment with CBD.
A little closer to home, a 92-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia was able to wean off antipsychotic medication after incorporating CBD into her daily regime.
How CBD Can Calm Alzheimer’s Symptoms
Though Alzheimer’s research still isn’t conclusive, what we know is that CBD is generally considered a gentle addition to almost anyone’s health and wellness regimen. If you’re considering adding CBD to an Alzheimer’s medical program, please consult with your doctor to make sure there are no concerns, particularly that you—or the person you care for—don’t have any medical issues with adding CBD to the established treatment.
And don’t buy into any hype about CBD curing Alzheimer’s disease. What it can do is help with some troubling symptoms. Small successes are huge when caring for someone with this debilitating condition and can help make the difference between a day filled with trauma or joy.
Because CBD has been shown to assist with anxiety and sleeplessness, it may prove useful in helping someone feeling agitated or restless, without the high associated with THC-containing cannabis.
Many people prefer tinctures or gel caps for medical CBD use, in order to bypass the digestive tract and speed up the beneficial effects. You can even add CBD tinctures to water or juice, and many have a pleasant flavor—or none at all.
Start with a tiny amount, such as 5–10 milligrams. Chances are you won’t notice any significant improvements until you build up to a higher dosage. Since there are typically no unpleasant side effects, you should feel confident in safely increasing your dose, as long as you’re using trusted products from a reliable source.
If you’re OK with inhaling CBD and need a quicker delivery system to help with anxiety, try using a hemp-derived CBD vape pen.
You or the person you’re caring for should use CBD regularly to keep a level of the cannabinoid in your system. Be sure to keep a journal, noting at minimum:
- The types of symptoms you’re experiencing
- The time(s) you used your CBD product
- The type of CBD product
- The amount of product used
- The results/how you felt after consuming
Over time, you’ll find the right dose that works for you.
If, as research is beginning to suggest, CBD has neuroprotective components, it’s also an excellent choice for people wanting to address the potential of cognitive decline before it becomes an issue.
You can rest assured that providing CBD to a person who may not be able to choose for themselves is one of the safest, most compassionate ways to help them live their best life, even while coping with the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease.
Photo credit: Esther Town
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