To know that the inherited form of Alzheimer’s disease is very rare means little in the village of Harvey, New Brunswick. While only about 7 percent of all Alzheimer’s disease is associated with familial Alzheimer’s disease (FAD), in this small community, roughly one-third of the population has this form of the disease. But listen to Dr. Lisa Genova:
In the video, neuroscientist Lisa Genova (also the author of “Still Alice) explains that Alzheimer’s doesn’t necessarily need to be the destiny of your brain. She talks about the latest research on the disease and some promising practices that all of us can do to make our brain more Alzheimer’s-resistant.
“It’s on your mind constantly,” says Cathy whose father, aunt and several cousins have all been affected by the disease. “It’s always right there and you wonder, am I next?”
Dr. Jack Diamond, Alzheimer’s Society of Canada’s Scientific Director said that FAD has a tendency of striking before the age of 65. In the village of Harvey, lots of the residents already received the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s while still in their 40s or 50s.
This high FAD incidence in Harvey provided Alzheimer’s scientists and researchers with unique opportunities to learn more about the terrible disease. “The fact that the community was willing to cooperate with the researchers contributed significantly to understanding the disease,” adds Diamond.
Cathy is acutely aware of just how much progress has been made in recent years. Cathy’s father started to show symptoms by the end of the 1970s, but in those days, the disease was hardly mentioned. “It is such a common occurrence here but for a long time no one talked about it, but fortunately, today people with Alzheimer’s are speaking out, and why not?” says Cathy. She helped change that.
After her father got diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1993, Cathy began her campaign to raise funds for the important work of the Alzheimer Society. As part of a family affected by Alzheimer’s disease, she was able to bring the disease into the open and make it acceptable to talk about it. After years of silence, she discovered that “the support in Harvey was phenomenal.”
Treatment and care have also changed greatly since her father was sick. “At that time there were no medications. There was nothing back then at all,” remembers Cathy. The first medication against Alzheimer’s was introduced in the late 199os, just two years after the father of Cathy passed away at the age of 64.
Today, better diagnostic tools are enabling people to be diagnosed and begin treatment earlier. Over the past decade, revolutionary drug therapies were approved for use in the U.S. and Canada to help to alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
“I am at pretty high risk for diabetes meaning I’m watching my sugar intake very carefully,” says Cathy who realized that, as she had diabetes, she was at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s after she had seen the material for “Heads Up for Healthier Brains“.
Monitoring health checks such as blood pressure and cholesterol are just a few of the keys to keep our brain in a healthier state along with protecting your head, socializing, and challenging yourself. Cathy is keeping her brain active and healthy with doing embroidery, puzzles, and watching TV.
‘The Healthier Brainsinformation shows how much the research has evolved in recent years,” says Cathy enthusiastically. “When I read it I was filled with such hope. Research is progressing and that gives everyone more incentive, more hope,” she adds, voicing the sentiment that has sustained the people of Harvey for decades.
“If the disease gets you now, you’ll have a better chance to continue to live the life you’re used to,” says Cathy while remembering her beloved father. “Today, all treatment is around maintaining the quality of life you had for as long as it takes. It all has come a long way, hasn’t it?
All of these positive developments have helped lessen Cathy’s fear that she will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. “If I do get the disease, I think I will fare far better than my father did,” says Cathy quietly. “And I know that the Alzheimer Society is out there and that if I need them someday, they will be there for me.”