The Horror of Alzheimer’s Dissected
If someone wanted to write a movie, where a person’s a memories and personality disappeared as the brain disintegrated, it would be considered a horror movie.
Unfortunately, this horror movie is real life: it is Alzheimer’s disease and it infects one in 10 people aged 65 and over.
At the Palisades Alliance for Seniors meeting on January 14, Kimiko Kelly, the Alzheimer’s L.A. community education manager, spoke about “Memory Loss & Alzheimer’s.”
The disease starts when two abnormal protein fragments– plaques and tangles–accumulate in the brain’s hippocampus.
- The hippocampus is where current memories are stored, such as remembering what one ate for breakfast. Those brain cells are killed, first, and then the plaques and tangles move systematically to other portions of the brain.
- The disease moves to where language is processed, which means its tougher and tougher to find the right word.
- The front of the brain is attacked next. This is where logical thought takes place, which means the person gradually loses the capacity to solve problems and to plan.
- The plagues and tangles then move to the part of the brain that controls emotions, which means the person loses control over moods and feelings.
- Afterwards, it moves to the part where the brain makes sense of what a person sees, hears and smells.
- Eventually the plaques and tangles erase a person’s oldest and fondest memories, which are stored in the back of the brain. Glen Campbell’s daughter Ashley told a Senate hearing committee, when she was requesting more funding for Alzheimer’s research, “Someday, my dad might look at me and I will be absolutely nothing to him.”
- Finally, the disease compromises balance and coordination before finally shutting down the part of the brain that regulates the heart and breathing.
The disease’s relentless progress, from onset to death, is an average of 8 to 10 years. (Visit: youtube.com/watch?v=ECbjK4Ra-Ys)
Country-Western singer Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 75 and died at age 81. In a Nash Country Daily story, “Glen Campbell: His Courageous Fight with Alzheimer’s Disease,” his wife Kim describes one stage of the disease.
“He asked me where something was and I said it was in the garage. And he said, ‘What’s a garage?’ So, I’m like, ‘What do you mean? We’ve been living in this house for eight years.’ There were other weird things like that.”
She explained that if they were in a restaurant, and he got up to go to the bathroom, he would be completely unable to find his way back to the table. “Those kinds of things became more frequent,” Kim said. ‘We were definitely worried.’”
At the Senior Alliance meeting, Kelly was asked, “Since there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, why do people want to get an early diagnosis?”
She explained there are three reasons: 1) better understanding and management (for example, estate managing and advanced health directives could be done while the person still has good brain function), 2) there might be other reasons that someone might be suffering memory loss that could be corrected (such an over medication or a combination of medications given for other reasons) and 3) safety concerns.
Kelly spoke about Nancy Paulikas, 56, who had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2015.
She disappeared from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, while visiting there with her husband Kirk Moody in December 2016. Her Alzheimer’s had progressed to the stage where she was unable to communicate.
A retired computer engineer, Paulikas was last seen by surveillance cameras as she walked on nearby streets. A massive search ensued, and a $100,000 reward was offered. Two years later, her husband was notified that the skull and ribs found on a Los Angeles hillside about 12 miles from the museum in March 2017 were Paulikas.
Many wanted to know, “What’s the difference between normal aging and forgetfulness and Alzheimer’s?”
Kelly assured the audience that as we age, forgetting things once in a while is normal: that the retrieval of information is slower, and more memory cues may be needed.
But with the onset of Alzehimer’s, a person may have more problems following conversations; reading and writing; paying bills; confused about the day or time of day; have problems with daily tasks; have problems remembering recent events; repeating questions and stories; “losing” more items (or accusing people of stealing the items) and getting lost on familiar roads or paths.
At this time, there is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease. According to Medline, “No treatment can stop the disease. However, some drugs may help keep symptoms from getting worse for a limited time. There are a few medications that can provide partial, temporary relief in the disease’s early stages–but they are ineffective against cognitive decline and physical deterioration.”