Losing Our Minds
“Alzheimer’s is the cleverest thief, because she not only steals from you, but she steals the very thing you need to remember what’s been stolen.”
Introduction to Alzheimer’s: goo.gl/6NC8mu
Diagnosed as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States according to the CDC, Alzheimer’s disease changes the lives of millions of people around the world each year. Currently, it affects 35 million people globally, but predictions expect this number to nearly double by 2030. The problem: we have no cure. Every 67 seconds in the United States, somebody develops the disease, and according to the article, “Why do women get more Alzheimer’s?” in the Washington Post, women are 2/3 more likely to develop it than men are. It is still uncertain as to why, but studies are being conducted at USC, Johns Hopkins, and other universities that relate to the levels of estrogen in women. After a woman goes through menopause, their estrogen levels decrease which cause changes in brain activity. Although terrible in the sense of statistics, it is even greater in the emotional affect on people who deal with the disease and their families. It is a serious disease that is most commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 65, and being the most common form of dementia, causes memory loss and complete confusion. Usually, it starts out with disorientation, mood changes, confusion at events, and suspicions towards your family or friends, but it is a very progressive illness and can end with difficulty speaking, walking, or even swallowing.
Personally, I’m very interested in learning about the most recent research and findings about the disease because Alzheimer’s takes on a personal level in my life. One of my dad’s uncles was diagnosed years ago with beginning stages of the disease, and it came as a huge shock to all of us. It’s hard looking into someone’s eyes and helplessly knowing what they are about to go through, and I’m saying this because I’ve experienced it. He was one of the happiest and most compassionate men I knew, and though he’s still surviving today, I often wonder if I would really want to live life the way he suffers through it. He recognizes nobody; he can’t eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, or walk, and when I look at him, all that I get in return is a completely blank stare. Recently, his daughter got married, and when he came to the wedding, he started intensely shaking and seizing. Everyone thought that there was something that he wanted to say, but nothing could come out. It’s a disease that not only affects you, but your community: your family, your friends, and the people who love you and are used to you being there in their every day lives.
So, what is the cause and what are solutions? The answers are pretty unclear. Tests have proven Alzheimer’s to be related to genetics in some ways, but the gene is shown in only four chromosomes, and this is most likely not the only cause. Scientists describe it as a part of the brain’s cell factory that breaks down and eventually cells lose the ability to do their job and shut down (goo.gl/SwG00w). In terms of solutions, there are currently five drugs that are FDA approved to slow down the progressiveness of the disease, but nothing has been discovered so far to be an actual cure. Studies and trials are conducted at numerous hospitals and institutions, and like many other diseases, organizations and different groups host events and fundraisers all with the one goal: to one day having a world that is dementia free. Walk to End Alzheimer’s, sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, now has about 650 walks per year all over the country and have raised over 55 million dollars for global research and care. Each time I have been, it is truthfully such a great experience to walk with so many people all wearing purple and supporting a cause near to all of our hearts. Also to raise awareness, November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month AND National Caregiver Month- a thank you and celebration to everyone who helps and cares for those who are fighting.
As we live through the age of technology for entertainment, it is also being used to help patients cope with different issues, especially diseases that affect the brain. In the lucky age that we live in… there really is an app for everything. Softwares that support “neuroplasticity”, or the ability to exercise your brain to make it more efficient, are in the process of being developed. Clevermind (Twitter: @MyClevermind), a cognitive app currently being designed for iPads, is one that not only provides exercises to stimulate the brain but also that provides entertainment, information, and a form of social network. Within one app, you can receive info about nutrition or medications, listen to music, watch movies, read books, connect with others going through exactly what you are, get access to news, and participate in a variety of trivia and activities. Programs like these ones really do provide hope for people suffering as well as for their caregivers. It keeps patients occupied and their minds are always working.
To watch someone you love lose everything they once knew is terrifying, as is looking across the table at a parent or a friend, and, in the back of your mind, having the fear that one day one of you may have no memory left. With statistics soaring and the world having to go through losing brains and lives to such an awful disease, we want to work as hard as we can to reach preventative solutions and sometime in the future eliminate the disease all together.