Thursday, January 19, 2012

What I learned about Alzheimer's this week

Dear Em,
Who was it who said "your mind is a terrible thing to waste?" Our brains are such fascinating & amazing things. The things that our brains do everyday that we take for's pretty unbelievable. Someone with Alzheimer's knows how much we take our brains for granted. A caregiver of someone with Alzheimer's knows how much we take our brains for granted.

To watch someone you love lose their minds has to be one of the saddest & hardest things to endure. It's as if memories & moments are erased before your eyes. Losing memories are hard to watch for caregivers, but watching the person they love become aggressive & combative is worse. My heart aches for those with Alzheimer's as well as their loved ones. Have you ever seen or read The Notebook? I sob every single time. When I listen to caregivers tell their stories, it takes everything in me not to break down in tears & hug them close.

I've been studying Alzheimer's for over five years now, & yet there is still so much I don't know. Today I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Richard Issacson, a Neurologist & Alzheimer's specialist, talk about dementia. Here are some of the things he taught me today that I never knew before:

- 20 years ago, there was no pharmaceutical treatment for Alzheimer's disease. I really should have know this. I mean, it's not a secret. I knew treatments haven't been out forever, but to think it's been less than 20 years...blows my mind.
- Someday, maybe in the next 5-10 years, there may be an Alzheimer's vaccine (hopefully given later in life & not adding to what seems like 5000 vaccines given to kids aged 0-2).
- Dr. Issacson believes that music can help to delay the onset & progression of Alzheimer's disease dementia (so glad I listen to Pandora in my car all day & you & I sing all the time).
- There are chemicals released while exercising that Dr. Issacson believes could delay the onset & progression of Alzheimer's disease dementia (OK, another reason I have to get more consistent with my exercise).
- He has developed a diet plan that he believes aids in delaying the onset & progression of Alzheimer's disease dementia (he talked about decreasing carbs...not an option for me right now. I'm too much of a bread & potatoes girl. I wicked hope I never have to give up carbs).
- He believes that there is evidence to indicate that folic acid decreases the progression of Alzheimer's disease dementia (this was interesting to me, because the folic acid I took while I was pregnant with you surely didn't help me to think any clearer...not that I'm saying pregnancy is the same as Alzheimer's).

So, I said "he believes" a lot. For the most part, these are not facts that have been proven in large scale studies or approved by the FDA. They are just methods that Dr. Issacson has utilized in his practice & he believes to have found beneficial. In most cases, I take non-proven methods with a grain of salt, but his message was compelling.

If anything, I took hope in the fact that there are people in this world who are passionate about treating Alzheimer's disease. There are people looking for alternative options to treat a disease that currently has no cure. Maybe in the next 5-20 years, an Alzheimer's diagnosis won't feel like a death sentence. Maybe in the next 5-20 years, Alzheimer's disease won't seem so scary.

In the meantime, I'm going to try not to take my brain, as inadequate as it sometimes seems, for granted. I'm going to be open to the possibility that every day holds something new for me to learn. I'm going to remind myself that even my bad days are probably better than most days of someone with Alzheimer's (or his/her caregivers). I hope that you will too.

I love you so,

P.S. Dr. Issacson has written a book. I have not read it & therefore cannot vouch for it, but I'm thinking of adding it to my reading list for this year. It's only 9.99 for my Kindle & I'm interested in learning more about what he talked about today. Have you read it & would you recommend it?

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