Actor’s Death Highlights Hope for a Cure for Alzheimer’s

Gene Wilder at an in store appearance to promote his book "My FrGene Wilder, one of the funniest actors of the 1970s, has recently passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. His death highlights the toll this disease takes on society’s best and brightest, slowly taking away their personality and ability to function, followed by taking their lives. In the NOVA PBS documentary Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped?, journalist Greg O’Brien described it as having a “sliver of your brain shaved off every day.”

September is World Alzheimer’s Awareness month so let’s increase your awareness.

Did you know?

  • Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging.
  • Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia & more than 5 million Americans are living with the disease.
  • It is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S….it kills more than breast and prostate cancer combined!
  • It was first discovered by psychiatrist Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1910.

What’s happening in the brain

  • Plaques and tangles cause the injury and death of brain cells that leads to memory loss and problems with thinking and behavior.
  • Plaques are amyloid proteins that clog up the space between brain cells; tangles are caused by tau proteins within brain cells.

ADWho gets the disease?

  • Most people develop plaques and/or tangles as they age, but people with Alzheimer’s develop more in general, especially in the memory areas of the brain.
  • Developing the disease seems to be a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental influence.
  • Those who get early onset disease (in the 30s, 40s, or 50s) have a genetic mutation that guarantees they will get Alzheimer’s.
  • Risk factors include having cardiovascular disease and a history of head trauma.

Prevention

  • Staying physically active, maintaining a healthy diet, lifelong learning, and keeping strong social connections.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of dementia.

Treatment

  • Nothing can cure Alzheimer’s or reverse the cell damage.
  • Cholinesterase inhibitors (such as donepezil) and memantine are used to lessen or stabilize symptoms for a limited amount of time.

The future

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the subject of many research studies; 90 percent of what we know about it was discovered in the past 15 years!

Alzheimer’s disease is an especially insidious disease when it takes family members before the person is diagnosed. An article in the Star Tribune quoted David Johnson, a 59-year-old man diagnosed with early onset-Alzheimer’s, “Four years ago, I resigned myself to dying. I knew I had three to five years left,” after he experienced Alzheimer’s through the deaths of his father, six aunts and uncles, and a cousin. Now he has hope for slow progression of the disease due to his clinical trial treatment of antibody infusions. Vitamin D treatments and PET scans for early diagnosis are also being studied.

What can you do?

  • Join the Twin Cities Walk to End Alzheimer’s on September 17th.
  • Eat a balanced diet and stay physically active throughout your life.
  • Keep up strong social connections and intellectual challenges, such as crossword puzzles, throughout your life.
  • Monitor older friends and family for changes in mood, memory, and safety.
  • Create a fidget quilt or activity apron for people with dementia. In late stages of dementia, people can have restless hands that pull at clothes and bedding; blankets with zips and ties can keep them busy for hours.
  • Create a memory quilt with treasured photos printed on it to help elders remember their loved ones.

References

Alzheimer’s Association (2016) What we know today about Alzheimer’s and dementia. Retrieved from: http://www.alz.org/research/science/alzheimers_research.asp

Buck, C. (2016, August 28). New promises for Alzheimer’s therapies. Star Tribune, pp. SH2.

Holt, S. (Producer/Director). (2016). Can Alzheimer’s be stopped? [Motion picture]. United States: NOVA Productions by Tangled Bank Studios

Post written by Megan Wentz, MSN RN PHN OCN, simulation coordinator/nursing faculty and Minnesota School of Business – Richfield.