“What do we tell you?” This was the question posed by Dr. John C. Cavanaugh, a prominent researcher on Alzheimer’s disease and chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE).
Alzheimer’s disease is the most prominent from of dementia. It is the loss of connections between nerve cells and the eventual death of those cells due to a buildup of plaque in the brain. Alzheimer’s disease leads to the gradual decline in memory, learning, attention, and judgment.
People who suffer from this disease experience confusion of time and place, have trouble with communication, and can even face a problem maintaining personal hygiene. Alzheimer’s is a scary reality for some people and their families to face. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease it can only be “intervened.”
Everyone is interested in how people contract such a horrible illness. Genetics seems to be the answer behind the cause. Mutations in one of three genes can lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s; it only takes one of the mutations for the disease to happen. Through the use of genetic screening, it can be determined if you possess the mutation necessary to cause Alzheimer’s.
This is where the ethics of the problem come into play. Would it be ethical to inform the patient that they posses the gene mutation that will lead to the onset of Alzheimer’s? Even with the mutation in the genes, it is uncertain of how the disease will progress; it is something that is different for every person. Hearing that you are at a greater risk quickly turns into, “I have Alzheimer’s.”
The extreme need for better tools in diagnosis was one of the key points discussed by Dr. Cavanaugh. According to him, the current diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is based on the NINDS, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke – from 1984. Not to mention that a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s still requires an autopsy, so the only way of truly knowing comes after the death of the sufferer.
With all the technology of our day, there has to be some way to be able to adequately diagnose a patient. Although there have been no updated ways to obtain a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, there have been advances in physiological, neurological, biomarker, and neuropsychological tests, along with the careful interviewing of the patient’s family.
Intervening to stop the progression of the disease doesn’t have to be through the use of medicines; there are nonmedicinal means of doing so. A man named Cameron Camp has found a few ways of intervention that do not require any type of medicine to be used. Space-Retrieval is one of his methods. This is the process of spacing out the time between the retention and retrieval of certain information.
For example, a researcher might tell a patient their name and have the patient repeat it back; an hour later they would do the same process and see if it can be recalled from memory.
Camp also pursues the use of Montessori-based activities; this approach allows patients to pursue their own interests and things they like rather than have it chosen for them. It has been shown that use of this technique leads to a reduced level of agitation and an increase in positive mood and social engagement. Aside from these methods from Cameron Camp, museums are stepping in to offer specialized tours.
Although Alzheimer’s is an incurable disease, there are ways to ease the pain of what each person goes through. Strong support systems, along with the use of the non-pharmacological interventions as well as pharmacological interventions, help a lot. However, preparation for what is to come is the best method of handling the situation.
The progression of the disease is gradual but noticeable, and it is extremely hard to watch family and friends go through it. You are never alone in the battle against Alzheimer’s, and there are ways to support research for the disease.
Alzheimer’s Foundation of American and the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation are just two of many foundations established that donate money to the progression of research in the field. Helping to fight this disease today could make a difference in your tomorrow.