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Keywords:

  • Agitation;
  • Alzheimer’s;
  • Behavioral symptoms;
  • Galantamine;
  • Ginkgo;
  • Lavender;
  • Lewy body dementia;
  • Melissa;
  • Prevention;
  • Sage;
  • Traditional Chinese medicine;
  • Vascular dementia

SUMMARY

An escalating "epidemic” of diseases like Alzheimer's has not yet been met by effective symptomatic treatments or preventative strategies. Among a few current prescription drugs are cholinesterase inhibitors including galantamine, originating from the snowdrop. Research into ethnobotanicals for memory or cognition has burgeoned in recent years. Based on a multi-faceted review of medicinal plants or phytochemicals, including traditional uses, relevant bioactivities, psychological and clinical evidence on efficacy and safety, this overview focuses on those for which there is promising clinical trial evidence in people with dementia, together with at least one other of these lines of supporting evidence. With respect to cognitive function, such plants reviewed include sage, Ginkgo biloba, and complex mixtures of other traditional remedies. Behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) challenge carers and lead to institutionalization. Symptoms can be alleviated by some plant species (e.g., lemon balm and lavender alleviate agitation in people with dementia; St John's wort treats depression in the normal population). The ultimate goal of disease prevention is considered from the perspective of limited epidemiological and clinical trial evidence to date. The potential value of numerous plant extracts or chemicals (e.g., curcumin) with neuroprotective but as yet no clinical data are reviewed. Given intense clinical need and carer concerns, which lead to exploration of such alternatives as herbal medicines, the following research priorities are indicated: investigating botanical agents which enhance cognition in populations with mild memory impairment or at earliest disease stages, and those for BPSD in people with dementia at more advanced stages; establishing an ongoing authoritative database on herbal medicine for dementia; and further epidemiological and follow up studies of promising phytopharmaceuticals or related nutraceuticals for disease prevention.