Bill Gates talks about why he is investing in the fight against Alzheimer’s. He first became interested in Alzheimer’s because of the burden, both emotionally and financially, it places on families and health care providers. More importantly, he has seen how Alzheimer’s affects a family up close in his own life.
“Can Alzheimer’s Be Stopped” is the title of a recent PBS nova documentary that follows multiple research teams on their quest to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. In my last post on the subject, titled "We Can Cure Alzheimer’s Disease," that was the message of hope left me by Samuel Cohen a young research scientist at Cambridge University in England. This remarkable hour-long documentary significantly amplifies that sense of hope.
The signature identifier for Alzheimer’s disease is a buildup of what are known as plaques and tangles in the brain. Plaques are a buildup of "sticky" beta-amyloid proteins that buildup between nerve cells and disrupt or block synaptic signals. This causes a progressive communication breakdown. Tangles are twisted strands of a protein called Tau which buildup in nerve cells themselves and cause them to die.
The researchers in this documentary focused their attention on destroying and removing plaque buildup. Although the goal is to find an eventual cure for Alzheimer’s, at this early stage stopping the progression is considered a big win.
I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary and learned some new things. New imaging techniques are now able to detect the buildup of plaques and tangles as much as 20 years before the onset of symptoms. Catching it at such an early stage gives the afflicted individual an opportunity to slow the progression much sooner. And that seems possible with today’s medications.
The documentary did a good job of providing insight into how big Pharma research scientists operate and what motivates them. (Profit of course!) And also did an excellent job of showing the human side of Alzheimer’s, in particular the struggles of an extended family from Medellín, Columbia who suffer from a rarer genetic form of Alzheimer’s.
I don’t want to give away too much detail as I heartily recommend you watch it yourself. It’s one hour-long and holds your attention from beginning to end. So grab some popcorn and a soda and make yourself comfortable on the couch!
When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of “overtime” when the angel appeared and said. “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”
And God said, “Have you read the specs on this order?” She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 moveable parts…all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair. And six pairs of hands.”
The angel shook her head slowly and said. “Six pairs of hands…. no way.”
It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” God remarked, “it’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”
That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel. God nodded.
One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say. ‘I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”
God,” said the angel touching his sleeve gently, “Get some rest tomorrow….”
I can’t,” said God, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick…can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger…and can get a nine year old to stand under a shower.”
The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.
But tough!” said God excitedly. “You can imagine what this mother can do or endure.”
Can it think?”
Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.
Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek.
There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model.”
It’s not a leak,” said the Lord, “It’s a tear.”
What’s it for?”
It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”
You are a genius, ” said the angel.
Somberly, God said, “I didn’t put it there.”
~ Erma Bombeck, When God Created Mothers
Happy Mother’s Day each and every one of you!
Every four seconds someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s with over 40 million people suffering from this disease globally. Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist, first described the symptoms in 1901 yet still a cure for this heartbreaking disease remains elusive.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain. Only over the past couple of decades have we begun to understand the mechanics of the disease, and we are at the very beginning of understanding how to arrest its progress and eventually find a cure.
But I’m very hopeful, there have been recent advances in neuroscience and we are seeing early signs that Alzheimer’s is appearing on the political radar too. The advocacy of people like Brenda Bouchard are responsible for that, but the fact that we spent $217.7 billion in 2014 on Alzheimer’s care, which is expected to nearly triple by 2050, helps get politicians attention too!!
I do my bit by providing for the daily needs of Alzheimer’s afflicted individuals and building as much awareness of the disease as I can. I feel very strongly that whether we are touched by Alzheimer’s or not it’s our duty to be as well informed as we can be. Hence the reason for this post.
The video above was produced by those folks from Ted X. It does a tremendous job of describing how Alzheimer’s was first diagnosed, what causes the disease, and the six stages of Alzheimer’s. And it does this in an interesting and engaging manner all in under four minutes! It’s a great beginning for people wishing to start their journey of discovery about Alzheimer’s.
I encourage you to watch, learn and share. The more awareness we build the greater the chance we have of finding a cure.
This video “Honoring Ken” ripped me apart but at the same time filled me full of hope. For every A Love For Life™ resident there is a loving supportive family going through emotional heartbreak every day. I see it and I feel it. Brenda Bouchard has not only exposed the general public to that agony in an honest and raw manner but also to the people with the power to do something about it.
I encourage you to set aside the time to watch Brenda’s video all the way through. There is a link that appears at the top left of the video that says “Honoring Ken has a new ending.” Please click on that when you are ready because it provides a surprising and hopeful ending.
The predominant symptom for Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss. It’s heartbreaking to see your loved ones forget important dates or events, their loved ones names, and their earlier lives. And being a progressive disease this memory loss gets worse over time.
The general thinking in the scientific community was that the disease destroys how those memories are encoded causing them to be lost forever. A groundbreaking new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Nobel prize-winning Susumu Tonegawa provides strong evidence that the memories are not lost but just become inaccessible. This raises the possibility of future treatments that could reverse some of the ravages of the disease on memory.
The study was conducted on two groups of mice. One group was a control group and the other group were genetically engineered to exhibit Alzheimer’s like symptoms. Both groups were given a mild electric shock to their feet and then removed from their chamber. The "Alzheimer’s" group quickly forgot their electric shock when placed back in the chamber an hour later, whereas the control group exhibited fear symptoms.
Scientists then repeated the experiment but this time used a technique called optogenetics on the "Alzheimer’s group." This technique uses light to activate cells tagged with a special photosensitive protein, which stimulates neurons to re-grow small buds called dendritic spines that form synaptic connections with other cells. This reversed the memory loss and the "Alzheimer’s" group subsequently showed fear symptoms when placed back in the chamber in which they had previously received a mild electric shock.
The same technique cannot be used on humans but it points the way to future memory retrieving treatments for Alzheimer’s sufferers.
"The important point is, this is a proof of concept,” Tonegawa said. “That is, even if a memory seems to be gone, it is still there. It’s a matter of how to retrieve it.”
The study’s revelations have sent a ripple through the Alzheimer’s research community, and have effectively "shattered a 20-year paradigm of how we’re thinking about the disease," said Rudy Tanzi, a Harvard neurology professor, who is not involved in the research.
This research is particularly important right now as this age-related illness is killing more people each year as lifespans become longer.
"Nothing could be more important in thinking about the diseases that will plague modern Western society in the next 50 years," Dr. Lee Schwamm, executive vice chair of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital said. "It’s not just that there’s no cure, there’s not even a very good treatment."
A majority of my " A Love For Life™ " residents suffer from age-related dementia including Alzheimer’s. If it becomes possible to unlock their memories and make them whole again my joy will know no bounds!
Thank you Dr. Susumu Tonegawa!
I am sure that most of you reading this may have suffered a restless night’s sleep or two. You’ve woken in the morning and greeted the day completely exhausted. I know from personal experience it’s no fun at all!
The purpose of a good night’s sleep is to renew, heal and recharge our batteries. What happens if our batteries don’t recharge? Our energy reserves deplete and the interruption of the renewal and healing process causes things to break! Lack of a good night’s sleep has been linked to all sorts of ailments including diabetes, depression and heart disease.
Quite a number of my residents suffer from dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s. I know firsthand that sleep does not come easy to them. Until recently, the standard school of thought was that Alzheimer’s disease caused sleep disorder. Dr. Jeffrey Iliff, a brain scientist at Oregon Health and Science University, this year stood that theory on its head. Yes, there might be a causal relationship, but the other way around! Lack of sleep may actually lead to vulnerability for Alzheimer’s disease.
Iliff was recently interviewed by NPR on the news that he had been awarded a $1.4 million grant by the Paul G. Allen family foundation, to launch a study of people that could clarify the link between sleep problems and Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Previous research has only been done with animals.
It has been clear for decades that there is some sort of link. For a long time researchers thought this is simply because the disease was “taking out the centers of the brain that are responsible for regulating sleep,” Iliff says.
But, as real-life usually is, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s are, (WARNING – long fancy words coming up), amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, which are simply clusters of misfolded proteins that gather predominantly in areas of the brain important to memory functions. Dr. Illiff discovered in 2013 a cleansing process takes place in the brain during deep sleep. The brain’s surrounding fluid actually re-circulates into and through the brain itself clearing out toxins such as the abovementioned plaques and tangles.
“That suggests at least one possible way that disruption in sleep may predispose toward Alzheimer’s disease,” he says.
In other words sleep stimulates a flushing process that removes toxins. No deep sleep, no flushing and no removal of the toxins, plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer’s.
The research grant he has been awarded is to study this cleansing process in humans, as his previous research has only been done on animals. I wish him the best of luck in his research as, for the first time, he may discover ways that we as humans can mitigate the potential risk of Alzheimer’s.
So please develop good sleeping habits and encourage your love ones to do the same. A definite causal relationship has not yet been established but why wait. A good deep sleep does us all a world of good as A Love For Life™ Residents will confirm!
I confess I am a sushi lover. I need my raw fish fix at least twice a month and once a week is even more preferable! It might seem a strange obsession to have living in the middle of landlocked New Mexico but I’ve always been very conscious of the health benefits of eating fish.
I’m excited to share that I came across a study by Dr. Martha Claire Morris from the Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, who discovered that eating lots of fish may protect against Alzheimer’s.
“In cross-sectional analyses, moderate seafood consumption was correlated with lesser burden of brain Alzheimer disease neuropathology in APOE ε4 carriers. Although seafood consumption was correlated with higher brain levels of mercury, these levels were not correlated with brain neuropathology.”
A very academic conclusion I know, so let me unravel it for you! Here are the key findings of the study:
This is great news as diet together with exercise and not smoking are three areas where we can take practical steps ourselves to improve our health.
Fish has always been a mainstay of our menu at A Love For Life™, (except of course for those residents with strict medically advised dietary requirements), and the residents seem to love it. Our in-house chefs Therese and Carol never cease to amaze me with their culinary creativity producing such delights as tuna casserole, beer battered cod and shrimp quiche.
The bottom line is that eating fish is good for your health and has now been scientifically linked to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease onset. So next time you are perusing a restaurant menu or planning a meal at home I would urge you to consider a fish dish if you don’t normally do so.
Me? I still prefer my fish raw and will now make an extra effort to make my sushi fix a weekly event and not the biweekly one it currently is!