Dementia is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease impacting 1 in 7 Americans over the age of 70 with many more struggling with early-stage dementia with a bleak prognosis. Forecasters anticipate dementia cases to triple globally by 2050. While dementia is considered a chronic and incurable condition, there is ample opportunity to improve care for patients and their caretakers.
As research into the medical and therapeutic potential of psychedelics grows, some evidence suggests that the anti-inflammatory and neuroplastic properties of psychedelics can be a potential cognitive treatment option for progressive neurodegenerative diseases. While the prospects of a breakthrough treatment to potentially reverse or halt the progression of dementia is exciting, there is currently no evidence that such an outcome is a possibility. With that said, there is still ample opportunity to explore the therapeutic potential of psychedelics in supporting and enhancing quality of life for the patients. A recent article published in Psychology Today explored these options.
Helping to Treat Agitation, Behaviors, and Delirium?
1 in 5 nursing home residents is currently prescribed anti-psychotic drugs to treat "agitation, behaviors, and delirium".
"Whereas anti-psychotics have proven largely ineffective and quite dangerous, it has been proposed that micro-doses of psychedelic treatments that disrupt ego and allow temporary unbinding from acute physical/mental suffering (as well as inflexible, habitual patterns of cognitive activity) could theoretically help foster greater calmness in people living with dementia." reports Psychology Today.
Considering that psychedelic microdoses are generally safe and well-tolerated, not habit forming, and beneficial across a wide spectrum of mental health and behavioral challenges, exploring their therapeutic potential under these circumstances can prove valuable.
In light of the deleterious consequences of anti-psychotics, investigating the potential mood-altering effects of psychedelics—which are generally well-tolerated, non-addictive, and non-hallucinatory at low dosages—would appear a valuable direction for inquiry.
Enhancing the Benefits of the Arts?
Some of the most consistently effective interventions in long-term care for dementia patients as well-as senior care in general are attributed to storytelling, music, dance, gardening, and pet therapy. These sensory experiences offer a profound container and opportunity to connect on a core human level without cognitive demands supporting rich expression and bonding with peers and caregivers.
"Psychedelics, of course, are known for their capacity to enhance sensorial experiences, elicit feelings of the sacred, sublime, and numinous, and deepen a sense of unity and inter-connection. It is thus worthwhile considering whether micro-dosages of psychedelic compounds could, in long-term care settings, help deepen the qualitative experience of “socialceuticals” like listening to or singing songs, observing nature, engaging with art works, interacting with animals, or bonding with other residents." highlights the author.
Since so far there is no substantial research exploring the impact of microdose psychedelics on senior care and dementia patients, the above assessments are purely speculative although hopeful.
Research into dosage, safety, and administration, as well as ethics of consent are all critical areas yet to be explored in this area. In all likelihood, future research into the impact of psychedelics on dementia will likely be focused on their potential on reversing or preventing neurodegeneration as opposed to their benefits on sociability.