Pitchfork Press

Cronkite Summer Journalism Institute 2012

Try to Remember

The background story about the problems that Alzheimer’s causes and the suffering families go through.

Director of the New Media Innovation Lab Retha Hill is writing a book for families who are suffering with Alzheimer’s, especially those of Hispanic and African-American families. For the moment, the book’s title is “Something’s Wrong with Momma,” and may be out by early fall.

The common phrase goes, “the older, the wiser,” yet some elderly wisdom may have escaped their memory for good. The elders of the today’s generation face an epidemic on a high scale compared to any other time period. The epidemic for today’s elderly is a well-known disease from the dementia family: Alzheimer’s.  According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s; the majority begins over 65-years-old.  The disease causes problems in the brain, primarily with memory, the thinking process, and the behavior of the person.

From Alzheimer’s attack on the brain, the symptoms slowly, but surely, begin to show. On average, the symptoms can begin to show as early as 45-years-old. Usually the more visible symptoms, such as forgetfulness, are known to been seen at 60-years-old. It’s easy to ignore small symptoms from loved ones like repetitive questions. The most noticeable symptoms tend to be:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Aggressive attitudes
  • Hallucinations

By the time these symptoms are shown, it tends to be when the disease has progressed beyond any control.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is one of the ten leading causes in death within Americans and the only one to not have a cure or known method to relieve pain. The cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown to scientists. Therefore, producing medication that can decrease the progression, let alone cure it, may take longer than some people have the patience for.

The disease not only affects the person’s brain activity, but also the people around the person affected. The slow signs of constant repeating question may be something to confuse with old age, but in reality it is a call for help.

“We [family members] assume that when our mother is becoming forgetful that is a part of old age. The problem is when we begin to notice the stronger symptoms such as aggression and hallucinations, once we receive the diagnosis, it is too late,” Director of Arizona State University New Media Innovation Lab Retha Hill said.

The families have difficulty adjusting to the fact that their grandparents cannot remember who they are and even where they are. The most difficult part is the aggression because their elder constantly fights with loved ones. In reality, they only want to care for their elder but cannot because it appears to be a losing battle.

“As caretakers for our parents, we want to give the best help possible. But for some, especially those in African-American or Hispanic homes, we do not have the resources to take care of them,” Hill said.

Families have to suffer the effects of Alzheimer’s and cannot bear the burden of caring for their elders. When it’s impossible to care for their elders, they move to hospitals or private homes to care for their family members.

The hospitals, such as St. Luke’s, deal with Alzheimer’s patients with the worst condition. The aggression progresses to a point that is harmful towards loved ones. Even though there is no known cure, the hospitals help provide care for patients by trying to reduce the aggression and trying to help restore memory.

“There has been a lot of research over the past decade on Alzheimer’s on the molecular and genetic level. It’s disappointing that, unfortunately, the pharmaceutical has nothing to show from the research,” a Psychology doctor in the generations’ unit at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Doctor Dennis Shub said.

Though the future for Alzheimer’s looks bleak, there have been recent studies that can change the course of the disease forever. According to the World Health Organization, there has been a recent study that produced a successful vaccine to prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s. This research was conducted by Russian scientists and has proven to be the first successful vaccine for the Alzheimer’s. Though it will take years to find a cure, a successful vaccine is the first step to a brighter future for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.

“It is hard to be optimistic that it will happen ten years from now. But eventually we will gather enough information. But it has been more challenging than anyone in the scientific and medical community had anticipated. But keep hope definitely,” Doctor Shub said.

Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is an overwhelming epidemic. With five million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s, studies from the CDC suggest the number will reach almost 16 million people. Yet the first step in discovering the first successful Alzheimer’s vaccine could bring more research in developing medication. Though families suffer with the results of Alzheimer’s, the outlook is not bleak. With more research towards finding this dreadful disease’s cause, scientists can discover a possible cure. In conclusion, with a little patience and a lot of care, the Alzheimer’s may be defeated for good.

– Ira Confidence

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