It’s no secret that my Dad has Alzheimer’s. People are always asking how he is doing. I always wonder what I should say. “Alright” is the short, not so true, answer. It’s an everyday struggle that will never get better. It can only get worse.
First off let’s define Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Association defines it as: A progressive mental deterioration that can occur in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain. It is the most common cause of premature senility.
This is caused by plaque building up on the neurons, this slows down and eventually even stops the brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of the body. Alzheimer’s Association adds:
Plaques are deposits of a protein fragment called beta-amyloid (BAY-tuh AM-uh-loyd) that build up in the spaces between nerve cells.
Tangles are twisted fibers of another protein called tau (rhymes with “wow”) that build up inside cells.
Though most people develop some plaques and tangles as they age, those with Alzheimer's tend to develop far more. They also tend to develop them in a predictable pattern, beginning in areas important for memory before spreading to other regions.
Scientists do not know exactly what role plaques and tangles play in Alzheimer's disease. Most experts believe they somehow play a critical role in blocking communication among nerve cells and disrupting processes that cells need to survive.
It's the destruction and death of nerve cells that causes memory failure, personality changes, problems carrying out daily activities and other symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
Now let me add. The only way to be 100% diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is at an Autopsy. The plaque cannot be seen on the brain till then. Only one machine in the US that can see the plaque. Lucky for us that machine is at Georgetown University, which is where Dad is enrolled in a drug study. But because it is a double blind study, we don’t know if he has the plaque and if he does how much.
There is so many holes in any cure or cause that we have. There are so many unanswered questions
What are the factors?
What can I do to prevent the disease?
What can I do if I’m starting to show signs?
Then there are many “maybe” answers.
Maybe if you have a high fish diet it will delay the symptoms.
Maybe if you exercise you won’t Alzheimer’s.
Maybe if you have the gene you’ll develop the disease.
One link that is another maybe is genes. For a genetics lesson reminder read this.
There is an agreement there is a genetic link. But there is no agreement on which one. Out of the 23 genes there is a possible 19 genetic links. The one with the strongest science behind it is the 4th Chromosome, this gene is referred to as APOE-4 (Apolipoprotein E). Women who test positive for this gene are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Men who test positive are only slightly as likely to develop the disease as those who do not carry the genes. The ones who carry both genes (remember dominant and recessive? This is recessive, so if you have two recessive genes), women are four times as likely to develop the disease and men are twice as likely.
With Dad’s family history of memory loss it is no surprise he has the APOE-4 gene. Both his parent’s had memory loss and some of his brothers are starting to show the same signs.
But there is a flaw to this genetic link, 10-15% of people who carry the gene never develop Alzheimer’s. And 15% of people with this disease don’t have this gene.
So if you have this gene, maybe, you’ll develop Alzheimer’s.
So with this knowledge, my siblings and I were given the option for us knowing if we too carry the gene. I talked to various friends, family relatives, etc.
I couldn’t decide if I wanted to know or not. It’s good to know. Especially with kids, is this something I’m going to pass?
But do I want this hanging over my head for the rest of life? Knowing what could happen to me…
It took me months to make a decision, but I did come to one.
I got tested.
And I’m a carrier.
So now I know my risks, I know what maybe will happen. And what I may or may not pass on. It’s scary. But now I can be proactive.
Discoveries are made every day.
And maybe, one will be made to stop The Memory Robber.