Dementia in the News

If you’re on the older side and find yourself popping hideously awake in the middle of the night or far-too-early morn, here’s your line for the next time it happens: “Oh, that darned ventrolateral preoptic nucleus of mine! How I miss my old galanin!”

In 2009, award-winning journalist Greg O’Brien was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s; he was just 59 years old. It’s the kind of news that no one is prepared for, and yet O’Brien, who had watched both his maternal grandfather and mother succumb to the disease, was perhaps more prepared than most.

Fleetwood Mac’s hit song, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” got a second life as the anthem for then-candidate Bill Clinton’s first campaign for President. A new report in JAMA Neurology may trigger the return of that earworm. The report offers yet another reminder that tomorrow may not be better if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure.

A simple eye test could soon reveal whether you have Alzheimer’s Disease – or even if the disease looms in your future. In fact, according to trial results released this week, the vision test detected signs of Alzheimer’s 15 to 20 years before the appearance of clinical signs.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most feared diagnoses among patients. It destroys people’s minds, their personalities, the very essence of who they are. And once the disease has been diagnosed, there is nothing modern medicine can do to stop it.

A simple test of a person’s ability to identify odors and noninvasive eye exams might someday help doctors learn whether their patients are at risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research to be presented Sunday.

With Alzheimer’s disease growing fast among the world’s aging population, researchers are increasingly focused on the search for new ways to detect and treat the brain-killing disease in its earliest stages.

Alzheimer’s disease is a personal issue for Martin J. Walsh.

The Boston mayor remembers his grandmother reverting to childlike behaviors when her children implored her to remember them. She didn’t recognize her children, or her grandchildren, or any of the family members that surrounded her in her Ireland home until she died.

Whenever her dementia-afflicted husband went to bed, Reiko Ozawa would sigh in relief and sometimes wish he would never wake up.

That was because once he did, a living nightmare would await her, as her husband, Kunio, would tend to wander off, rant at her and even suffer hallucinations.

“My marriage with you was the biggest mistake of my life,” Kunio, who passed away six years ago at age 64, once shouted at Ozawa in one of his worst outbursts. It didn’t take long before he reverted to what appeared to be a childhood mentality, calling Ozawa “mom.”

Life was relaxing and peaceful for Shigeru Suzuki until six years ago, when he realized that Hiroko, his wife of more than 30 years, was having problems doing simple chores.

The 77-year-old former employee of a major civil engineering firm recalls that, at first, he couldn’t understand why Hiroko couldn’t sort clothes as told. One day, he got irritated and snapped at her, pressing her to explain why she couldn’t just remember to put the clothes away. Hiroko then tearfully replied: “It’s not like I want to be forgetful.”

In one of the most ambitious attempts yet to thwart Alzheimer’s disease, a major study got underway Monday to see if an experimental drug can protect healthy seniors whose brains harbor silent signs that they’re at risk.

Scientists plan to eventually scan the brains of thousands of older volunteers in the U.S., Canada and Australia to find those with a sticky build-up believed to play a key role in development of Alzheimer’s — the first time so many people without memory problems get the chance to learn the potentially troubling news.

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