Finding Alzheimer’s Before a Mind Fails

Posted by Kendall Harmon

For a perfectly healthy woman, Dianne Kerley has had quite a few medical tests in recent years: M.R.I. and PET scans of her brain, two spinal taps and hours of memory and thinking tests.

Ms. Kerley, 52, has spent much of her life in the shadow of an illness that gradually destroys memory, personality and the ability to think, speak and live independently. Her mother, grandmother and a maternal great-aunt all developed Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother, 78, is in a nursing home in the advanced stages of dementia, helpless and barely responsive.

“She’s in her own private purgatory,” Ms. Kerley said.

Ms. Kerley is part of an ambitious new scientific effort to find ways to detect Alzheimer’s disease at the earliest possible moment. Although the disease may seem like a calamity that strikes suddenly in old age, scientists now think it begins long before the mind fails.

“Alzheimer’s disease may be a chronic condition in which changes begin in midlife or even earlier,” said Dr. John C. Morris, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis, where Ms. Kerley volunteers for studies.

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Filed under: * Culture-WatchHealth & Medicine

Posted December 28, 2007 at 3:06 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Christopher Johnson wrote:

Since I was unemployed at the time and living with my father, I got to spend about a year and a half watching my mother die of this every single day.  And my grandmother was in the midst of what was then called “senility” before a stroke cut things short.  Unfortunately for me, there may be something to this idea.

December 28, 5:51 pm | [comment link]
2. Courageous Grace wrote:

I was under the impression (someone with more scientific knowledge than I please feel free to correct me) that there are two types of Alzheimer’s, the type which generally besets the elderly (non-hereditary) and early onset which is hereditary.  The latter of which I understand runs in my husband’s family (his grandmother developed it in her fifties and his mother is afraid she’s showing symptoms).  Of course, medical research always seems to prove new things…

December 28, 11:16 pm | [comment link]
3. Words Matter wrote:

As it happens, my dad, his mother, possibly her mother, his youngest brother, and several cousins in that line all developed Alzheimer’s in their late 50s/early 60s. Dad’s autopsy positively identified it as Gray’s Body Altzheimer’s (or something like that), which is genetic. On the other hand, Dad’s sister and another brother all developed dementia in their mid-70s, so we don’t really know what that is all about.

I learned tonight that my uncle has been put in a nursing home, so this is on my mind. We were fortunate, in that Dad died before it came to that. He knew us until very close to the end, never became violent, and died peacefully. His siblings have not been so fortunate.

December 29, 12:40 am | [comment link]
4. Larry Morse wrote:

Why would one want to know this most dreadful end long before it comes to pass? There is nothing that can stop the end, after all. LM

December 29, 12:30 pm | [comment link]
5. Words Matter wrote:

Because there are medications that can help.  Dad was in the last clinical trials of the first med developed for Altzheimer’s and I believe we got a good 2, or 3 extra years with him. It’s possible meds kept my aunt and uncle functional several extra years. For myself, tests have shown I don’t have the genetic markers for it, but if I did, I would have started a medication, plus, of course, I would have time to make arrangements and prepare.

December 29, 12:45 pm | [comment link]
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