The Alzheimer’s Project – ReviewMay 17, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
The Alzheimer’s Project is a four-part documentary series and multimedia presentation currently airing on the cable network, HBO. It’s also available online for free for those who are not Home Box Office subscribers. This landmark event is a collaboration between HBO Documentary Films, the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Alzheimer’s is the second most feared illness, after cancer”. Those words appear on the screen during the second segment of the Alzheimer’s Project. Watching the incredibly intimate footage captured by the filmmakers will help every viewer understand why that is. But that’s only a very small part of the overall objective. What we find here is an attempt to present this mysterious disease through the eyes of the patients, their caretakers and the physicians who are desperately searching for a cure.
In The Memory Loss Tapes we’re introduced to wide cross-section of the USA. The first person we meet is Bessie. She’s 87 years old and lives in a small home, next door to her daughter in Wisconsin. A friend says of her, “Everyone knows, Bessie”. She sings in a group called the Harmonettes, cares for a beautiful garden and her adoring dog named Skipper. She bakes pies and even serves as a grand marshal for the local parade. The trouble is, she’s beginning to forget the names that go along with the many familiar faces of her family and friends.
In St. Louis there’s an 82 year old woman named Fannie who rails against the loss of her ability to drive a car. She puts up a valiant fight, but her inability to identify street signs makes her a danger on the road. It’s a crushing blow to her sense of independence.
In California, a man with a wicked sense of humor, named Joe blogs about his experience as a 62 year old who is losing his identity. He’s angry and can’t understand how a “computer genius” could have such a horror descend upon him.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) was first detected in 1906 by Dr. Alois Alzheimer. After his death, little research was conducted on his discovery because it was assumed that age-related dementia was simply a consequence of growing older and/or a complication related to cardiovascular disease. But for the last few decades, that antiquated viewpoint has been abandoned. Currently, there is a massive push to understand all there is to know about this brain wasting disease and how to halt its progression and, possibly, even reverse it.
The science behind the current scientific revolution is addressed in the segment, Momentum in Science. It’s a great counterpoint to the The Memory Loss Tapes, which provides such sobering personal accounts of the ravages of this disease. I was particularly enthralled by the simple yet highly descriptive animation used to explain the mechanism by which this disease impacts the physiology of the brain. It also offers welcome relief when one of the featured clinicians speaks these optimistic words, “We do have the research scientists. We do have the knowledge. And I think we can beat Alzheimer’s disease”.
Most of the scientists featured in the documentary tend to favor the use of conventional medicine. But, some examples of non-pharmaceutical interventions are examined as well. A concept called “cognitive reserve” is mentioned as a possible protective strategy. Cognitive reserve is a characteristic found in some patients who experience the expected changes in the brain, but do not exhibit diminished mental function. In studying this phenomenon, it’s been found that those who are most likely to fit into this category: a) have a large social network; b) are less prone to distress; c) regularly engage in mentally stimulating activity and; d) exercise.
Exercise is one of the few natural remedies wholeheartedly endorsed here. It’s noted that “brain-derived neurotrophic factor” (BDNF) protects lab animals from brain damage associated with AD. Exercise increases the levels of BDNF in animal studies and improves memory and reaction time in animals who regularly engage in this activity. Dr. Carl Cotman, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of California Irvine, smiles and wonders, “What drug can do that?”
One day, science may indeed offer a real cure or preventative for Alzheimer’s. Until then, we should do all that we can to support brain health as early as possible. Some researchers believe that pre-symptomtatic changes occur in the brain 5-15 years prior to the typical diagnosis of AD. There is also a general consensus that early treatment offers the greatest hope for slowing down the progression of the disease. Waiting for “old age” to begin before caring for your brain is no longer a viable option.
In recent months, I’ve devoted several blogs on the topic of nutrition and lifestyle choices for AD and overall brain health. I strongly recommend that you read these if you have not already done so. I personally incorporate most of these techniques in my own life, just to be on the safe side.
Most of us will be touched in one way or another by Alzheimer’s in our lifetime. The Alzheimer’s Project, helps us to better understand what to expect and how to best deal with the realities of this illness. Most importantly, it inspires hope and encourage us to make necessary changes in the way that we treat ourselves and others.
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Tags: Alzheimer's, Memory
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise, Memory