Clare has adjusted incredibly well to life in the dementia unit of her assisted living facility. I know that she has made some friends but she cannot tell me any of their names. I have also observed her enjoying many of her daily activities, especially those dealing with music and art. When Clare is engaged in activities, she is happy and has told me many times how much she has enjoyed various programs. But when there is "down time" between activities, Clare will sometimes become anxious and repetitively ask: "Has anyone seen my husband? Do you know where my husband is?"
For 67-year-old Joe Fabiano, every morning is the same. After helping his wife, Anita, also 67, out of bed, he helps her bathe and dress, then guides her through their home of 45 years to the kitchen.
"This way, just turn to the right," Joe tells Anita, holding her hands as she walks.
Anita, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's in 2008, is now in the middle stage of the disease. She has problems finding the bathroom, kitchen and front door, even though the layout of their Staten Island home has never changed.
It’s the conversation no adult child wants to have, the family dynamic few want to discuss publicly. But the pain pours out on an Alzheimer’s help line, where middle-aged sons and daughters call crying, afraid to tell mom or dad it’s time to stop driving, and equally afraid not to.
“That role reversal is overwhelming,” said Ronda Randazzo, the manager of care consultation for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter .
Researchers at MIT have proven that the brain’s cortex doesn’t process specific tasks in highly specialized modules — showing that the cortex is, in fact, quite dynamic when sharing information.
Previous studies of the brain have depicted the cortex as a patchwork of function-specific regions. Parts of the visual cortex at the back of the brain, for instance, encode color and motion, while specific frontal and middle regions control more complex functions, such as decision-making. Neuroscientists have long criticized this view as too compartmentalized.
Sticky plaque gets the most attention, but now healthy seniors at risk of Alzheimer's are letting scientists peek into their brains to see if another culprit is lurking.
No one knows what actually causes Alzheimer's, but the suspects are its two hallmarks - the gunky amyloid in those brain plaques or tangles of a protein named tau that clog dying brain cells. New imaging can spot those tangles in living brains, providing a chance to finally better understand what triggers dementia.
No longer interested in activities you once enjoyed? Having trouble concentrating or remembering things? Sounds like a clear-cut case of depression. Not so fast, says Dr. Olivia Okereke, the academic director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"Symptoms of depression and dementia can overlap," she explained. Especially in early stages, it can be hard to distinguish between the two. Further complicating the issue is that both often occur together.
Time's impact on the body is pretty obvious. The hair thins and turns white. Lines and wrinkles invade the skin. We can even lose an inch or two in height.
There are some changes, however, we cannot see. The brain is aging as well. The memory gets a little fuzzy. You walk into a room and can't for the life of you figure out why. These are mild changes, however, and cause little harm - just annoyance.
The past year has been a hopeful one in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. New findings have brought clarity to understanding the disease’s progress; new drugs to attack it are in trials.
Rudolph Tanzi, the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Child Neurology and Mental Retardation at Harvard Medical School, last month was named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world for his contributions to that fight, specifically his work uncovering the disease’s genetic underpinnings.