Alzheimer’s Disease

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s is a neurologic disorder that causes the brain to atrophy and brain cells to die gradually. Alzheimer’s disease is the predominant cause of dementia, a progressive decline in cognitive, behavioral, and social skills that affect a person’s ability to function in their daily lives alone.

Early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur between 30 and mid-60, but it is infrequent. Late-onset symptoms typically occur in the mid-60s. It is a progressive disease that starts with memory loss and eventually leads to losing the ability to converse or respond to the environment.

Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

There are common signs and symptoms at the three progressive stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.  The three stages range from mild, to moderate, and lastly severe. 

Mild Alzheimer’s disease

A person with mild Alzheimer’s disease may seem healthy but will typically have more and more problems gradually trying to make sense of their surroundings. The realization that something is wrong often comes slowly to the person and their loved ones, friends, and even co-workers. 

Mild issues can include:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life
  • Poor judgment leads to bad decisions
  • Loss of spontaneity and sense of initiative
  • Losing track of dates or knowing the current location
  • Taking longer to complete everyday tasks
  • Repeating questions or forgetting recently learned information
  • The trouble with money and paying bills
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems
  • Wandering around and getting lost
  • Losing or misplacing things, leaving them in odd places
  • Difficulty completing tasks such as bathing
  • Mood and personality changes
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased aggression

Moderate Alzheimer’s disease

More intensive supervision and care usually become necessary when a patient has moderate Alzheimer’s disease. The changes in mental and physical health and increasing need can be difficult for many spouses and families to manage. 

 Moderate Symptoms often include:

  • Increased confusion and memory loss
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Inability to learn new things
  • Difficulty with language and problems with reading, writing, and math
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts and thinking logically
  • Short attention span
  • Problems coping with new situations or change
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Difficulty carrying out daily, multistep tasks, such as getting dressed or making dinner
  • Occasional problems recognizing friends, family, or loved ones
  • Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia
  • Impulsive behavior, especially at inappropriate times or places or using vulgar language
  • Inappropriate emotional outbursts 
  • Restlessness, agitation, anxiety, tearfulness, wandering 
  • Repetitive statements or movement
  • Occasional muscle twitches or tics

Severe Alzheimer’s disease

People with severe Alzheimer’s are unable to communicate and depend entirely on others for support. Near the end of one’s life, the patient will usually be in bed most or all of the time as their body is shutting down. 

Symptoms will include:

  • Inability to communicate
  • No awareness of surroundings
  • Weight loss with little interest in eating
  • Seizures
  • General physical decline
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Groaning, moaning, or grunting
  • Increased sleeping
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control

Causes and Risk Factors 

The causes of Alzheimer’s disease are thought by scientists to include a combination of the following:

  • Changes in the brain related to aging that may harm neurons and brain cells include: shrinking, inflammation, blood vessel damage, and breakdown of cell energy.
  • A family member may pass down genetic changes or mutations. It’s common among those with Down syndrome to develop Alzheimer’s as they age. They may even begin showing symptoms in their early 40s.
  • Health, environmental, and lifestyle factors potentially play a role in developing Alzheimer’s Disease. These factors include exposure to pollutants/toxins, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

Known risk factors are:

  • Age
  • Family history and genetics
  • Down syndrome
  • Mild cognitive impairment
  • Head trauma
  • Air pollution
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Lifestyle and heart health habits
  • Continued mental stimulation and learning
  • Lifelong social engagement

Who does it affect? 

Here are recent statistics on those affected by Alzheimer’s Disease:

  • Approximately 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2020
  • Young adults can get Alzheimer’s disease, but it is uncommon.
  • Symptoms of the disease can first appear after age 60, and the risk increases with age.
  • The number of people living with the disease doubles every five years after age 65.
  • Fourteen million people are projected to have Alzheimer’s disease by 2060.
  • Symptoms of the disease can first appear after age 60, and the risk increases with age.

Alzheimer’s Treatments

Prescription medications can be utilized to improve the quality of life for patients living with Alzheimer’s disease. There is not currently a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. 

Treatments typically target the following:

  • Helping to maintain strong brain health and function.
  • Learning to cope with a manage behavioral symptoms.
  • Delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that harms the dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain. It is a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. The symptoms usually begin gradually and get worse over time.

Parkinson’s Disease is a common qualifying condition for patients in states that have legalized medicinal cannabis. Medical marijuana commonly possesses significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can quickly help with chronic pain management.  The Therapeutic Potential of Cannabinoids for Movement Disorders: Clinical observations and trials of cannabinoid-based therapies suggest a possible benefit to tics and possible relief for tremors in dyskinesias or PD motor symptoms. Cannabinoids Reduce Levodopa-induced Dyskinesia in Parkinson’s Disease: A Pilot Study: The researchers show that nabilone, the cannabinoid receptor agonist, significantly reduces levodopa-induced dyskinesia in Parkinson’s.

Can medical cannabis help? 

Alzheimer’s Disease is a common qualifying condition for patients in states that have legalized medicinal cannabis. Medical marijuana is commonly found to possess significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help with chronic condition management.

Cannabinoid receptors bind to the brain and peripheral nerve cells and help regulate how you see and feel the pain to reduce symptoms. Medical cannabis, therefore, as opposed to other drugs, appears to be an excellent alternative to treat Parkinson’s patients and manage pain due to nerve damage.

CBD has anti-inflammatory qualities, can reduce pain, and even fully treat pain in some patients. It is also an antioxidant and can help reduce long-term inflammation. CBD contains cannabinoid receptors that can block chronic pain signals in the brain that trigger an increased immune response. 

Finding a way to cope with Alzheimer’s symptoms can be challenging for many patients. It’s not easy finding conventional medications that are effective or that our bodies respond to correctly. Many prescription drugs have side effects that aren’t manageable, so medical marijuana can be a life-changing alternative for PD patients in these situations. Remember, marijuana doesn’t cure the condition but helps manage adverse symptoms. Discuss medical cannabis use with your physician and follow their advice according to your treatment plan.

Last Updated: June 14, 2024

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