Photo by Anastasia Dulgier
As a researcher and writer for manufacturers of nutrition supplements, I was in a unique position to care for my husband who was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease right after his 60th birthday. Morris had opened and operated one of the first natural foods stores in Colorado in the late 1960s. After we married in 1974, I helped him run it. Working in a natural foods store was a natural fit for me because I had been a vegetarian for several years and was eager to learn more about natural health.
Later, I obtained a master’s degree in professional writing and my first job out of school was working as chief copy writer for a manufacturer of nutritional supplements. I learned a lot about supplements and ended up forming my own copy writing service. I learned how to interpret scientific studies, which especially came in handy when Morris was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
After the initial shock, I immediately went to work researching the drug protocol for Alzheimer’s. I discovered Namenda before it was FDA approved in the U.S. and ordered it from a European company. I gave Morris nutritional supplements, in addition to the prescribed pharmaceuticals, and butted heads with the neurologist who didn’t think that vitamins or minerals could possibly help someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
There have been some negative studies indicating that supplements don’t relieve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. But from what I can tell, they have been poorly designed and seem to be the fodder for sensational headlines. But there have also been many studies that show some dietary supplements can slow down dementia symptoms, and in some instances even reverse symptoms.
My purpose is not to convince you one way or the other. Rather, I encourage you as a caregiver to learn about dietary supplements and other modalities that have science backing them up.
- Souvenaid is a once-daily drink containing a mixture of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, uridine, choline, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium) with some clinical evidence to suggest that it can benefit dearly Alzheimer’s patients. Doctors can prescribe it as a medical food in Australia and Europe, but it is not yet available in the United States. It is, however, available online. Read about the clinical evidence here: https://alzres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13195-019-0528-6
2. What about the use of cannabis for dementia? I live in Colorado where cannabis has been legal since 2014. Medical marijuana has been legal here since 2000. My husband smoked marijuana before it was in legal in Colorado to relieve his anxiety. He also ate “edibles.” It definitely calmed him down and made him happy, which may be the best outcome associated with cannabis. I did not notice any cognitive improvement.
This is the latest study on cannabis for dementia, published July 17, 2019.
Limited evidence from one systematic review and one uncontrolled before-and-after study suggested that medical cannabis may be effective for treating agitation, disinhibition, irritability, aberrant motor behavior, and nocturnal behavior disorders as well as aberrant vocalization and resting care, which are neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with dementia.
There was also limited evidence of improvement in rigidity and cognitive scores as assessed by Mini-Mental State Examination. The evidence from the systematic review came from four of its primary studies, whereas its remaining eight included studies did not find favorable or unfavorable evidence regarding the effectiveness of cannabinoids in the treatment of dementia. Sources of uncertainty included the low quality of evidence in the primary studies of the systematic review and the fact that the uncontrolled before-and-after study was a nonrandomized pilot study in 10 dementia patients that reported descriptive outcomes without statistical analysis. No relevant evidence-based clinical guidelines regarding the use of medical cannabis for treating dementia were identified.
3. Vitamin D has been associated with memory loss and cognitive decline. Older adults with low vitamin D levels are at higher risk of dementia and may lose their cognitive abilities faster than those who have normal levels. This is one of the several reasons why everyone, except maybe those who work outdoors year-round, should take a vitamin D supplement.
4. Vitamin E includes several compounds: d-alpha tocopherol, high gamma tocopherol, mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. Headlines have screamed that people who take more than 400 IUs of vitamin E have a 5 percent greater risk of death than those who don’t take the supplement. Unfortunately, the studies analyzed in this report used only alpha-tocopherol, a synthetic form of vitamin E. The studies were flawed in many other ways, but the important thing to understand is that when you take a full spectrum vitamin E, you are protecting your brain, your heart, and your overall health. A recent study looked at the relationship between tocotrienol and Alzheimer’s disease. Based on its ability to act as a free-radical scavenger, the authors concluded that it has the potential to help reduce risk of Alzheimer’s. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29987193
5. I gave St. John’s wort to my husband until he was in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. By then he needed a pharmaceutical anti-depressant. But the St. John’s wort worked well for mild to moderate depression.
Here’s what we know about St. John’s wort:
- It is a safe and effective way to treat mild to moderate depression over long periods of time
- Is similarly effective as standard antidepressants
- It has minimal side effects when compared to standard antidepressants
- One study done on laboratory animals found that St, John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) has antidepressant properties similar to standard antidepressants. The antidepressant profile of H. perforatum is closely related to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors class of antidepressants.
- A Swiss study evaluated 440 patients suffering from mild to moderate depression and treated them with 500 mg. of St. John’s wort for up to one year. Although mild side effects such as upset stomach were reported—which may or may NOT have been related to the treatment—the researchers reported that is a safe and effective way to treat mild to moderate depression over long periods of time. They also found that it is especially suitable for preventing a relapse.
- A meta-analysis at the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research, Technische Universitaet Muenchen, Munich, Germany analyzed 29 trials (which included 5,489 patients), comparing St. John’s wort with placebo or standard antidepressants. The evidence suggests that the hypericum extracts tested in the included trials a) are superior to placebo in patients with major depression; b) are similarly effective as standard antidepressants; c) and have fewer side effects than standard antidepressants.
Pharmaceutical drugs usually come with a long list of possible side effects. Although some natural products can also have side effects, they are not as common and are usually less severe. One thing to note, though, about natural products is that it may take longer for them to be effective.
It’s always important to read and study when caring for a loved one. Become an informed caregiver. It will help you, your extended family and the person you so lovingly devote your time and energy to. Blessings to you.
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Boulder Book Store, Tattered Cover Book Store, Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.