November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: encourage brain research
Sometimes it’s easy to feel that despite all the hype about Alzheimer’s research, there is still little progress. Study results showing some promise of prevention or cure are publicized, only to be countered later by information that advanced studies contradict the first results. Meanwhile, people at risk for dementia of the Alzheimer’s type – pretty much all of us as we age – wonder, “What can I do to prevent AD?” “Will there be a cure if I begin to show symptoms?”
Have time and money been wasted on research that hasn’t shown results?
Are these studies that fail to provide a cure a waste of money? Should we feel dejected each time a follow-up study proves the smaller study wrong?
I'd rather look at the positive side. Even though negative results from a study are upsetting, especially to those who already have AD, I do feel progress is being made. To me, even a failed study is a step forward in that information is gained, even if that information is negative.
Is Alzheimer’s research helping people with other diseases?
While there is still much to be learned about how the brain functions, knowledge about the brain has increased rapidly in the last decade. It makes sense to me that one reason for this increased focus on the human brain is driven by the “tsunami” of baby boomers who are rapidly approaching the high-risk age for AD symptoms. However, an added benefit of AD research is that more information about other diseases is being gathered along the way.
For example, because of AD research, the effect of diabetes on the brain has been well documented. We now know that diabetics are significantly more at risk for Alzheimer’s disease than the general population. That's important information for people with diabetes. The relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease has actually led to what could be a promising new treatment for AD - intra-nasal insulin – which is already used to treat many people with diabetes.
Does Alzheimer’s awareness help lessen the stigma of mental illness?
When it comes to brain diseases, Alzheimer’s disease is statistically more apt to affect us than other brain illnesses, creating enough news value to warrant television programming nearly every week about some AD discovery. The reason, of course, is program ratings. Many boomers watch TV, and aging boomers are worried about AD. This knowledge leads programming executives to watch for every little nuance in AD research and report it, sometimes as “breaking news”, even when that point is debatable.
However, the upside of this news frenzy is that, with this growing awareness of AD comes more open discussion. Discussion often leads to the prying open of once closed minds. I believe that these open minds may then be more willing to look at all brain illnesses with increased compassion and a greater willingness to become educated.
Body, mind and spirit work as a unit
While mental illness still carries a stigma, depression and other illnesses, including dementia, are becoming less hidden, at least by a larger percentage of the population. You’ll be seeing some interesting posts on OurAlzheimers.com this month by one of HealthCentral’s best writers on depression. Watch for her take on how AD research and progress in treating depression.
We’ll also offer posts from other HealthCentral writers. These posts will illustrate how progress is being made across a wide range of diseases, often because of Alzheimer’s research.
What happens in one part of our body generally affects the body as a whole. Thus, brain research to find a way to prevent or cure AD will likely help us progress in other areas of medicine, as well.