The Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s – Can Cannabis Help?

Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, same or different?

Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia regularly get mixed up as either the same thing or completely different. This is both right and wrong as they do have a number of similarities even though they are different conditions. This can be very troubling when you consider that understanding someones condition is very important when trying to properly treat them. In this article we will cover what each of the conditions are and how they compare. We will also highlight the current potential being researched into cannabis as an alternative treatment for Dementia an Alzheimer’s disease.

What Is Dementia?

When comes to understanding dementia and Alzheimer’s disease we are going to start off by explaining dementia because it is basically the main condition and Alzheimer’s disease is a sub-type of dementia. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO):

Worldwide, around 50 million people have dementia, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year.

Dementia is an umbrella term for brain disorders that have symptoms of impaired thinking and memory. These physical and mental symptoms are so severe they interfere with a person’s daily functions. In the early stages of dementia, the most common collection of symptoms or early symptoms of dementia are difficulty with language, memory loss, poor judgement, confusion, and changes in personality and mood. People with dementia may also struggle with problem solving and controlling their emotions. Later symptoms include difficulty with coordination and motor functions, paranoia, agitation, hallucinations, and withdrawal from their work and social life.

Dementia is often associated with the cognitive decline that comes with aging but diseases other than Alzheimer’s can cause to dementia. Other common types of dementia are triggered by Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Doctors determine the cause of dementia with brain scans, blood tests, and mental status evaluations. In order for a doctor to diagnose someone with dementia, the person must show severe difficulty with two or more brain functions, for example memory and language. In 90% of cases doctors are able to determine the cause of dementia. Common forms of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, pugilistic Parkinson’s syndrome (caused by repetitive head trauma) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Types of Dementia

The general term dementia should not confused with certain types of brain disorders that include dementia in their names. We currently understand that there are 4 types of dementia known as Lewy body dementia (LBD), Frontotemporal dementia (FTD), vascular dementia and mixed dementia.

Lewy body dementia (LBD) is the second most common form of dementia. Common symptoms that occur are changes in autonomic body function, impaired thinking, problems with movement including tremors (Like Parkinson’s disease), depression, apathy, anxiety and other mood or behavioral issues.

When it comes to diagnosing LBD, the same common principle applies where, the earlier it is diagnosed, the treatment will be more effective in slowing the progression of the disease. Those with Lewy body dementia will have abnormal protein clumps in their brains that are also found in the brains of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s sufferers. This could be the cause of the similar symptoms we mentioned before (shaking).

Frontotemporal dementia is a group of diseases where nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain deteriorate. These lobes control personality, behavior, and language and noticing changes in these areas are key for diagnosis. However, like many of the type we discuss it can be difficult to catch and act on these symptoms early.

Vascular dementia is a condition where there is reduced blood flow in the brain and even blockages which obviously isn’t good. This causes less oxygen to get to the brain resulting in a lack of vital nutrients. Someone with Vascular disease may experience confusion and disorientation but it can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms are so mild.

They can also be found after the patient has a stroke or a heart attack. As a result this will obviously make it more difficult to treat these type of dementia effectively because it would be hard to catch at an early stage. The symptoms of vascular dementia are extremely mild, make it difficult to diagnose and treat.

Mixed dementia involves two or more related types of dementia such as vascular dementia, where the blood vessels are blocked of reduce blood flow occurs in the brain, along with the plague build up associated with Alzheimer’s disease (which can also coexist with LBD). Mixed dementia is a lot more difficult to diagnose compared to the rest, as it’s usually only found during the autopsy of people who were previously only diagnosed with one form of dementia.

Although you have these different types of dementia as you have have noticed there are a few common symptoms shown across each of them. Below if a list of common dementia symptoms you may wish to be aware of:

  • Communication and language difficulties
  • Impaired Memory
  • Poor ability to focus and pay attention
  • Visual perception issues
  • Reasoning and judgment difficulties

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, causing as many as 50 to 70% of all dementia cases. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are impaired thought, impaired speech, and general confusion. Roughly 5.3 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. However, Alzheimer’s can only be diagnosed with 100% accuracy after death when the brain is thoroughly examined during the autopsy.

Masses of abnormal proteins, linked to Alzheimer’s, can be discovered through a microscopic analysis of the deceased’s brain. These abnormal proteins limit brain function, thus hindering the parts of the brain that control memory, abstract thinking, judgement, behavior, movement, and language. Alzheimer’s leads to worsening dementia symptoms as it progressively destroys the person’s brain cells. Alzheimer’s often progresses quite slowly.

A person with the disease may experience a slow decline of cognitive capacity over seven to ten years. It is common for symptoms of appear after 60, though early-onset forms of the disease do exist normally as the result of genetics. Alzheimer’s symptoms vary by individual but generally include getting lost, asking repetitive questions, experiencing difficulty handling money and paying bills, having poor decision-making skills, frequently misplacing items and undergoing personality changes. They also take longer often with daily tasks than they used to. As the disease progresses, victims may lose the ability to communicate and recognize oneself or family members.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, like dementia, can very difficult as the symptoms appear over a long time and are not as directly noticeable as something “out of the blue”. “Granny forget her keys? Oh that’s just old age”, is something many people may have said in regards to symptoms popping up. However, as investment in Dementia/Alzheimer’s charities continues we (the public) are understanding it more and more and learning to consider it as a valid reason as to why some people we know and love are acting differently.

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease you may wish to be aware of are:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily living
  • Problem-solving becomes challenging
  • Time and Place confusion
  • Difficulties with reading and writing
  • Withdrawing from social activities

Dementia vs Alzheimer’s – The Difference

When a patient is diagnosed with dementia, they are being diagnosed with a larger set of symptoms. This means the actual disease is not yet known. This is similar to the diagnosis of say a sore throat. The patient has the symptoms of a sore throat but the cause of the sore throat is yet to be determined. Just the same, when someone is diagnosed with dementia they are experiencing particular symptoms but the cause has yet to be ascertained.

Alzheimer’s is not reversible but some forms of dementia are. Examples of reversible or temporary dementia are drug interactions or vitamin deficiency. Once the cause of the dementia is determined, treatment or counseling can begin. Both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can cause a decline in the ability to think, memory impairment and difficulty with communication. They also can worsen over time if they are not treated.

Cannabis (CBD) Could Help to Delay the Onset of Dementia and Alzheimer’s

More studies have been carried out on the medical uses for cannabis in treating neurologically based conditions. CBD oil which is available from both the cannabis and hemp plants, has already proven to help reduce pain as well as being a very effective anti-inflammatory.

Dr Antonio Currais, a scientist from California and a senior research associate at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies said:

Inflammation within the brain is a major component of the damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but it has always been assumed that this response was coming from immune-like cells in the brain, not the nerve cells themselves.

This provides a huge array of hope for those suffering with these horrible conditions as many illnesses with inflammation based causes are starting to be successfully treated using cannabis based treatments such as CBD. Apart from the inflammation side of these brain disorders cannabis based treatments are also said to able to treat the behavioral symptoms of dementia. Since we know cannabis can have an effect on the mind i.e. getting us high, some studies into these effects are showing similar properties without the negative psychoactive side effects.

It should be pointed out that these are merely potential benefits discovered through small studies and a treatment has not been created. However some medical and recreational users of cannabis have provided anecdotal evidence to suggest CBD and medical cannabis are useful for helping with the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s but not for “curing” them of any condition. If you are considering the use of any cannabis based treatment we highly advise that you first consult with your doctor or registered medical professional before doing so. This is to ensure your own health and safety and others around you.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
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