Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Brain and I

I'm a little worried about my brain.

I just read this article in December 26th's New York Times: "Finding Alzheimer's Before A Mind Fails" by Denise Grady. In this article, Ms Grady reveals that for years, doctors thought Alziemer's struck it's victims suddenly in old age, when in fact, the disease starts many years before. Some doctors think people with Alzheimer's may have always had it, growing slowly in their brains throughout their lives. There are those that think Alzheimer's is the real culprit behind learning disorders, behavior and memory problems.

My interest in this disease is not unselfish. My great-grandfather, Caspar Fergen became "senile" in his elder years, as did his father before him. His daughter, my grandmother, Kathryn, was also given this diagnosis, which was later re-diagnosed as Alzhiemers. Her son, my father, Vincent, is currently in the throes of the disease. To paraphrase the old saying, "Alzhiemer's doesn't run in my family; it gallops."

The current theory is that Alzheimer's may be a chronic condition in which changes begin in mid- life, or even earlier. Could this be the explanation as to why some things are so difficult for me to learn and remember, while others are aquired easily? Why my memory is so peristantly poor that I have to keep a notebook to keep dates, events and names straight (and even that is insufficient?). Why do I have such bad mobility problems, and no one can seem to agree on what is causing them?

Most scientists believe the only hope of treating Alzheimer's is detecting the disease early and finding treatments to halt it before the brain damage spreads. They would like to intervene even sooner, by identitfying any risk factors, even treating patients preventively if possible.

Unfortunately, the current practice of not diagnosing patients until symptoms develop and become severe is the norm, and by then it is already too late to rescue the brain from damage. There are drugs now being used to slow the progress in some, but do nothing to halt the underlying disease. Experiments are underway to find out if drugs or a vaccine could be used to remove the amyloid plaques that build up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients; the hope is this could stop the progress of the disease.

I'll admit it---this disease is my biggest fear. It killed my grandmother. Failing any upcoming advances in medical science, my father will die from it. And I may die from it--and perhaps my brother. There's something I see in the two of us that I don't see in my other siblings. (Thank God, he doesn't read my blog.)

I know we don't get to pick how we die, but I don't want my Dad's life to end this way. I don't want him to wake up one more morning in a fog of confusion , incontinent, mute and bedridden, completely dependent on others. And yes, I don't want that to happen to me, either. But I may not have much of a choice in the matter.


Rhea said...

Please visit my blog, where we can worry about diseases together with a lot of other baby boomer-aged people. I'm gonna put you on my baby boomer blogroll, too. Wanna trade links?

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