Almost two years ago my mother-in-law passed away. Unfortunately, she had started leaving us long before her body finally gave out. She had Alzheimer’s disease. It started 7 years before. At first we noticed that she was repeating herself. Then, she would get uncomfortable and disoriented when she left her house. She came to visit our family out in Oregon and every morning she would pack her bag and announce that it was time to go back home.
She loved to eat chocolate ice cream for dessert. After having her nightly treat she would ask for it again, forgetting that she had already eaten it. Then the opposite started happening. She forgot how to eat and drink. That is what finally brought about her death.
The entire process of the disease was slow and painful for her loved ones. Watching such a dynamic, brilliant woman slip away was so difficult. We have no idea what it was like for her since communication was virtually impossible. However, every once in awhile she would say something that gave a glimmer of the person she had been. It would last only a moment.
Alzheimer’s disease is something that we all dread. It is estimated that over 5 million people in the US suffer from this devastating disease. As we baby boomer’s age, the incidence is increasing. If nothing changes, twenty percent of the population will have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050. The death rate per 100,000 is 24.5 in the US. Cambodia’s rate is small by comparison at 2.4 per 100,000. Regardless, it is important to find ways to treat and prevent it.
Fortunately, there is ongoing research that may change the statistics. There are several studies that look promising. Read on.
A drug that is currently used for psoriasis called Stelara, has been found to improve cognitive impairment and amyloid plaques in mice that are bred to develop Alzheimer’s. Inflammation leading to deposits of beta amyloid is thought to be at the root of this disease. Stelara is a super strong medication that treats autoimmune disease and reduces inflammation human trials are soon to follow.
One of the other possible causes of this disease is that the brain becomes resistant to insulin. In theory, a diabetes medication called Metformin should halt and possibly reverse cognitive impairment. In fact, a study done on 2008 found that patients with diabetes and Alzheimer’s have showed cognitive improvement after being on Metformin.
A small study done in Canada has found that Alzheimer’s patients treated with intravenous immunoglobulin showed no further cognitive decline after three treatments. Researchers believe that the antibodies in the immunoglobulin halted the inflammation that causes beta amyloid to be formed in the brain. Further clinical trials on this promising treatment are ongoing.
One of the things that we know can help right now to prevent Alzheimer’s is for all of us to eat a heart healthy diet, exercise, and challenge our brains. Learn a new language, find a new way to work, or learn ballroom dancing. All of these things will help. Hopefully, in the future we can cure this devastating disease and then none of us will have to endure the long goodbye, which is beautifully explained in this quote:
“She is leaving him, not all at once, which would be painful enough, but in a wrenching succession of separations. One moment she is here, and then she is gone again, and each journey takes her a little farther from his reach. He cannot follow her, and he wonders where she goes when she leaves.”
― Debra Dean, The Madonnas of Leningrad