Post image for Alzheimer’s Disease and the Early-Onset Colombian Connection

I’m a huge fan of the CBS news show Sunday Morning.  It’s 90 minutes of quality programming that I look forward to every week.

This week’s Sunday Morning cover story was about Alzheimer’s disease.  Titled, How One Family May Raise Hope for Alzheimer’s Patients, it was reported by Mo Rocca, one of the my favorite reporters.  The nine-minute segment focused on the inherited early-onset Alzheimer’s that has been identified in a large, extended family in Colombia, near or around the city of Medellin.

There are approximately 5,000 family members and all are descended from one Basque couple who settled in Colombia in the 1700s.  Genetic testing show an astounding one-third of the family carry a mutated gene that has been identified as the culprit in passing along the early-onset Alzheimer’s.  Those who get the disease often begin showing symptoms in their 40s.

Scientists, most notably from the Banner Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, have been studying these familial links for many years.

Researchers first created an extensive family tree, a huge undertaking.  Then, the gene had to be identified, a process that took a decade.  Next, they analyzed the DNA of 3,300 family members.

While all this was happening, the team of scientists were searching for a drug company to participate and pony up for some huge drug trial costs.  Genentech finally signed on and their drug, Crenezumab was selected for the trial.  One of the study leaders is Dr. Francisco Lopera, a Colombian neurologist.

Studying this Colombian family allows researchers to work with those who have the mutated gene for early-onset Alzheimer’s, but before these individuals develop any signs of dementia.

Since this Colombian family was first identified, researchers have learned a great deal about the brain and about Alzheimer’s disease.

For example, it is now understood the disease can take many years to manifest.  An individual may have the beginnings of Alzheimer’s but show no outward signs or symptoms for a decade or even two or three.

Additionally, scientists were once convinced the disease was caused by a massive build-up of Beta-amyloid plaques and tau proteins, often referred to as the hallmark traits when a diseased brain is autopsied.  Some researchers now believe that while plaque and protein destroy brain cells, they are a by-product and not the root cause of the disease.

In Colombia, researchers are testing new, experimental plaque-reducing medications on 300 healthy adult family members.  A smaller study, using the same criteria, is simultaneously being conducted in the U.S.  You may learn more by visiting the Universidad de Antioquia website.

If these drugs are successful, this double-blind, five-year study will control the plaque build-up and (hopefully) stave off Alzheimer’s for participants.

However, another, and very unwanted, result could be this: The drugs are successful at eradicating plaque deposits and stopping any new build-up, however the individual still develops Alzheimer’s disease.  This outcome would no doubt send researchers back to the drawing board.

The wheels of research move slowly and sometimes the results lead to a dead end.  I sincerely hope this is not the case this time.

Photo Purchased from iStockPhoto

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Post image for Caregiver Quandry: What to Buy for Mother’s Day When Mom Has Alzheimer’s Disease?

Mother’s Day, always the second Sunday in May in the U.S., falls on May 11th this year.  This means you have a little more than a month to pick out that perfect piece of jewelry or perhaps the ideal perfume.  It’s estimated Americans will spend upwards of $2.6 billions on Mother’s Day flowers and an additional $68 million on greeting cards.

But what if Mom has Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia?  What if she can no longer enjoy a day of pampering at the spa?  What do you buy for your mother when the old standby gifts are no longer appropriate?

You can actually celebrate Mother’s Day simply by spending quality time with your mom.  That is a great gift in itself.  Your time and affection cost nothing and yet are invaluable.

However, if you are like me, the tradition of giving a gift to mark this day, or other special days, is important.  But what type of gift?

Until recent years, family members were often unable to find gift choices that were gender as well as age- and stage-appropriate f0r the person with Alzheimer’s disease.  Not many products existed and they were difficult to locate.

Thankfully, this has changed.

There are now several websites offering a wide-range of products and gift ideas designed especially for the person with memory loss.  One such site is Best Alzheimer’s Products, a large information portal and online store featuring more than 500 products.

In the interest of transparency, I am disclosing the following: Late last year, I handled a public relations project for Best Alzheimer’s Products.  The project was successfully completed and I was compensated for my work.  However, I am NOT being compensated for this blog post.  I’m writing it because I believe this website, along with a handful of others, are very helpful to the millions of Alzheimer’s patient’s and their caregivers.

In fact, I wish I had known about Best Alzheimer’s Products when my own mom was still alive.

As her Alzheimer’s progressed over eight long years, it became increasingly difficult to buy appropriate gifts.  For a long time, flowery plants were my fall-back gift, but even these became problematic when Mom became obsessed with watering the plants and then upset when they would invariably die — from over watering.

In frustration I ventured into the children’s toy department on several occasions.  The choices I found there never seemed quite right.  After all, Mom was a grown adult, not a child.

Instead, it would have been great to have picked out some interactive games and activities or perhaps some puzzles we could have enjoyed together.

If only I’d known then what I know now.

For this Mother’s Day, plan to spend time with your mom and family.  If you do want to buy a gift that is appropriate for your mom, and she has dementia symptoms, then do some online searching.  You’ll find options that have been designed, tested and tried especially for those with memory loss.  I think it will make mom’s special day even better.

Happy Mother’s Day!

*Photo Purchased from iStockPhoto

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