This is not an easy piece to read, but I think we need to arm ourselves with information. Unfortunately, this story will hit home for many of you. I think for all of us, our greatest fear is succumbing to our parent’s disease. I know for myself, and this is not exactly what one should say openly, but I would consider taking my own life IF I am diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the future. Not exactly kitchen table talk, but again, it is the pure, simple truth and that is my goal with My Demented Mom.
Let’s face it, Alzheimer’s/dementia is a disgusting disease and there’s simply no way of getting around that or being kind or PC when talking about it.
Middle age memory loss seen in Alzheimer’s offspring
Children of parents with Alzheimer’s disease can develop memory problems in their 50s or even younger — much earlier than previously thought — according to a large study that Boston researchers released today.
The adults, who also carried a gene strongly linked to Alzheimer’s, performed significantly worse in memory tests, on average, than other middle-agers who had the same gene but did not a have a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, according to the study by the Boston University School of Medicine. The difference in memory between the two groups was equivalent to approximately 15 years of brain aging, according to the study.
“How big an effect we saw was surprising,” said Dr. Sudha Seshadri, a BU associate professor of neurology and senior author of the study. “It was like you were comparing two groups, 55 year olds to 70 year olds.”
Researchers not involved with the study say the findings have broad implications because they are the first to demonstrate changes in cognitive abilities years before the degenerative brain disease is typically diagnosed. By the time the most common form of Alzheimer’s is confirmed, usually around age 75, it has irreparably damaged large sections of the brain’s memory center.
The BU findings do not suggest that everyone with the gene, known as APOE -e4, will develop Alzehimer’s, said Seshadri. People with APOE-e4 have an increased risk — but not a certainty — of developing Alzheimer’s. The gene is believed to play a role in about 50 percent of Alzheimer’s cases. Other genes are also suspected triggers for the disease.
The study did not address whether the subjects showing memory impairment were necessarily destined to develop Alzheimers.
As scientists race to find Alzheimer’s treatments, the latest findings may help researchers one day pinpoint when medical interventions should be started to halt the brain-ravaging process before it takes hold. Alzheimer’s afflicts roughly 5 million Americans and has no cure.
The BU study, which included 715 participants aged 37 to 80, has been accepted for presentation at the annual meeting in April of the American Academy of Neurology, the nation’s premier organization of brain specialists. However the study has not yet gone through the traditional scientific vetting process, which includes other scientists reviewing the data before it’s published in a journal.
The BU participants come from the Framingham Heart Study, which has tracked three generations, starting in 1948, to study risks for Alzheimer’s, stroke, and other cardiac and neurologic diseases. In the BU segment, participants were separated into two groups. Participants in both groups carried the APOE-e4 gene, but in one group, participants also had at least one parent with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The other group had parents who did not have the disease.
Both groups were given visual and verbal memory tests, in which participants where shown complex images and also told short stories. Twenty minutes later, they were asked to draw the figures and recite the stories as precisely as they could recall. The group with a parental history of Alzheimer’s disease scored, on average, significantly worse than the one with no parental history of the disease
I too have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s. It was hard to watch the rapid decline of a highly intelligent individual who was once the head of a family and held a high-profile job. The situation was made harder still because, initially, they were in denial that anything was wrong.
Their off-spring, like other friends of mine who have lost a parent to Alzheimer’s, live in the shadow of this disease, wondering if they too will lose their mind.
So funny that you should address this today. I haven’t slept well all week so I know that I can “rationalize” things away – but I sat at lunch today with my husband and was crazy frustrated seeing someone’s face in my brain and not finding the name. I did finally remember it all on my own – and it’s stupid…Penelope Cruz. I had the names of three other Spanish actresses rolling around in there before I finally remembered. And knowing that both my folks ended up with Alz…my chances of a clean escape???
All I can say after spending the last three years working as an interpreter (Spanish – Hispanic immigrant families) in a rehabilitation hospital with anything from brain injuries to spina bifida kids – I ended up learning from these families that there is a sacred space to enter into.
I think that I understand more now, having walked closely beside my dad before he died in August, what they are talking about. As “ugly” as this is, I wouldn’t have traded those months. We still laughed alot. I saw life more simply through his eyes. It forced me into a place of intimacy with him that I would not have had otherwise.
There are no guarantees as to how Alz plays itself out in each situation. I think the congestive heart failure is what really took him in the end. I don’t know how it will play out with my mom. And I understand that it is different since they were both in their 80’s when diagnosed.
But it is my life I’m pondering here. I’m the one in my 50’s wondering if and when the proverbial shoe might drop. There are no answers – only questions. But I have to believe that if that is in the works for my life, that God designed it so and will work to accomplish His purposes for everyone involved. My parent’s Alz might be the means by which I learn the most important lessons of my life…and maybe my life will go on to teach others. I refuse to live under the cloud of fear – there are things I need to do everyday with intentionality and purpose to NOT succumb to that.
Again, I laud you for your courage to take on these tough issues. It’s not fair that you have to face this all at your age – but let me be a Mom and say, “who said life is fair”! Hang tough…for me and others.