Alzheimer's Project Highlights Latest Research and Possibilities for Hope
Count me relieved. That’s the feeling I have after watching the two-part research portion of the Alzheimer’s Project documentary that was aired by HBO and which is available to stream on your computer on HBO.com.
What caused my relief, you might ask? First of all, there are the odds of getting Alzheimer’s. According to the documentary, researchers have found:
- When a person has no family history of Alzheimer’s, there is approximately a 10 percent lifetime risk of developing the disease.
- Having a family history of Alzheimer’s among close relatives can elevate one’s risk to 20 percent.
Being in the second category since many on my Mom’s side of the family had dementia, I was greatly relieved to find out that getting Alzheimer’s is not a done deal. Researchers noted that the genetic tendency is linked especially to early onset Alzheimer’s. The current thinking about those who develop Alzheimer’s later in life (in their 70s or 80s) is that the disease is caused primarily by chemical reactions gone bad, which (with enough research) can be stopped by identifying chemicals that will halt the bad reaction.
The documentary noted that scientists' understanding about Alzheimer’s disease has increased exponentially during the past 25 years. Some of their findings, as reported in the documentary, are:
- Insulin levels, inflammation and the vascular system all may have a role in causing someone to develop late onset Alzheimer’s.
- The combination of aerobic exercise and a healthy diet can have a synergistic benefit for those who are having issues with their insulin. (Although not mentioned in the documentary, these two wellness factors can have a benefit in improving some of the other triggers, as well).
Another report that I found interesting was that since 2004, the medical community can use a dye to show the amyloid plaque buildup in the brain of someone with Alzheimer's who is alive. (Previously, doctors could only know for sure that someone had died from Alzheimer’s after conducting an autopsy upon the person’s death.) Thus, doctors can see the disease’s progression in real time. That would have been helpful with my mother (although she vigorously fought doing these types of tests) and our family in order to do a better job of planning her treatment.
What I also appreciate about this project is that the producers have created 15 supplemental films with information that they videotaped but couldn’t fit into the main documentary. These films are:
- Understanding and Attacking Alzheimer’s
- How Far We Have Come in Alzheimer’s Research
- Identifying Mild Cognitive Impairment
- The Role of Genetics in Alzheimer’s
- Advances in Brain Imaging
- Looking into the Future of Alzheimer’s
- The Connection Between Insulin and Alzheimer’s
- Inflammation, the Immune System, and Alzheimer’s
- The Benefit of Diet and Exercise in Alzheimer’s
- Cognitive Reserve: What the Religious Orders Study is Revealing about Alzheimer’s
- Searching for an Alzheimer’s Cure: The Story of Flurizan
- The Pulse of Drug Development
- The DeMoe Family: Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Genetics
- The Nanney-Felts Family: Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Genetics
- The Quest for Biomarkers
Again, I want to thank those who made these very informative documentaries available, including HBO, the documentary producers and crews, the scientists and medical community, and – especially – the people who have Alzheimer’s and their family members and friends. It’s this type of courage and willingness to show the disease for what it is that helps break down stereotypes and also will help people join together to find a cure.