What Is Agitation in Dementia and Can Medical Marijuana Help?

agitation in dementia

Agitation in dementia is a challenging symptom that significantly impacts the lives of individuals living with this condition. Dementia causes a decline in cognitive abilities and often leads to restlessness, anxiety, and aggressive behaviors, known as agitation. This distressing symptom not only affects the well-being of those with dementia but also places a heavy burden on their caregivers. In this blog post, we will explore the concept of agitation in dementia patients, its causes, and whether medical marijuana can relieve these symptoms.

What Is Agitation In Dementia Patients?

When a person with Alzheimer’s disease becomes agitated, they exhibit signs of anxiety, restlessness, and distress. This agitation often manifests through pacing or other repetitive movements; in some cases, it can escalate into verbal or physical aggression. Interestingly, for some individuals, periods of agitation tend to coincide with the onset of dusk, as the fading sunlight gives way to darkness—a phenomenon referred to as “sundowning.”

Agitation is a prevalent issue among people with dementia, affecting a significant percentage of individuals. According to a research article published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in July 2021, approximately 60 percent of people with mild cognitive impairment, a condition characterized by memory or mental function problems that may or may not progress to Alzheimer’s dementia, experience agitation. Furthermore, a staggering 76 percent of those with Alzheimer’s disease also face this distressing symptom. What’s more, the severity of agitation tends to escalate as the condition progresses.

What Causes Agitation In Dementia Patients?

Multiple factors influence agitation in dementia patients. Neurodegeneration, the damage to neurons occurring in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s disease, plays a significant role in agitation development. However, environmental factors also contribute to its occurrence. A review published in Frontiers in Neurology highlighted several triggers for agitation, including pain, sleep disturbance, acute illness, depression, changes in medication, and hospitalization.

Understanding and addressing these underlying triggers can be crucial in managing and preventing episodes of agitation. Laura N. Gitlin, a distinguished professor and dean emeritus at the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University, developed the DICE Approach, a protocol for handling agitation and other behavioral symptoms. This approach involves describing and investigating the cause, creating appropriate solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness. Identifying potential triggers such as pain, confusion, poor sleep, or medication problems can help caregivers provide targeted interventions.

Does Marijuana Help Dementia Symptoms?

While medical marijuana is gaining attention for its potential therapeutic benefits, including its impact on behavioral symptoms in dementia patients, researchers are still exploring its long-term effects on the brain. Some trials have shown promising results regarding using cannabis to manage behavioral symptoms, including agitation and aggression, in individuals with dementia.

For instance, in a trial published in the Italian journal La Clinica Terapeutica, researchers observed “lower levels of physically and verbally aggressive behaviors” for all participants. Furthermore, about 45% of the participants experienced “a significant decrease in cognitive impairment,” an increased quality of life, and a “decrease in caregiver burden and costs of medical care and assistance.”

Additional research is needed to comprehensively understand the effects of cannabinoids, including THC and synthetic options like nabilone, on behavioral symptoms associated with dementia. The Alzheimer Society Research Program has funded studies examining the impact of endocannabinoids on mood and anxiety in dementia and exploring how the synthetic cannabinoid nabilone can address agitation in Alzheimer’s disease. These studies aim to provide a clearer understanding of the potential benefits of medical marijuana for individuals with dementia.

Get Compassionate Relief from Dementia Agitation Symptoms

If you or a loved one is experiencing distressing symptoms of agitation in dementia, it’s important to reach out for professional help. Pause Pain & Wellness is here to provide compassionate care and support. As a leading Medical Marijuana Card Clinic in Mississippi, we offer convenient locations across the state, including Oxford, Meridian, Flowood/Jackson, Tupelo, Olive Branch, Starkville, Hattiesburg, and Gulfport. Contact us at 833-940-5060 to explore potential treatment options and find relief from the challenges of dementia-related agitation.