May 9, 2013 11:46 PM by Chris Welty
Hundreds of families are learning to cope with Alzheimer's dementia.
The disease is debilitating. Alzheimers' affects memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and worsen over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks. One out of three seniors die with Alzheimer's or another type of dementia.
But, is there hope for families looking for a cure?
"I would like to see him get better, but I know that's not going to happen."
My grandmother, Marie Smith, has come to terms with Paw-Paw Jimmy's deteriorating health. He's 82-years-old and first showed signs of Alzheimer's eight years ago. We're just one of more than 5-million families dealing with Alzheimer's and it isn't easy.
"I say a prayer every night that God watches over him," said Maw-Maw.
Dr. Sylvia Rojas, a neurologist at Our Lady of Lourdes say, "The earlier the onset, the more rapid the progression. People who develop Alzheimer's dementia in their 50's have a much more difficult and rapid decline. The older you are in developing it, the course is a little more gradual."
Women are more likely to inherit Alzheimer's than man. But whether you're a man or woman, by 85 you have a 50 percent chance of having Alzheimer's. The disease is believed to have strong genetic ties.
"If you have a first degree relative who has Alzheimer's such as a parent with Alzheimer's dementia, you have a four time chance of developing the disease compared to someone else," said Dr. Rojas.
Billions of dollars are spent researching what causes Alzheimer's including clinical studies and experimental medicine, but still no cure.
There are ways patients, like Paw-Paw can manage his disease. Currently, there are five FDA approved drugs to treat symptoms, temporarily helping memory and thinking in about half of the people who take them. Early detection is key to slowing the progression.
"If you have good care and you get on medication early because time is brain, you're not as likely to decompensate or die as quickly," said Dr. Rojas.
Maw-Maw, like many others desperate to find a cure, wishes it would come easier and faster.
"Give me what they have and let's see what happens with him you know. We'll take anything."
Paw-Paw says, "Anyone who has this burden would feel that way that sooner or later, they can come up with a cure where you can revert back to a normal life."
Life changes forever with Alzheimer's and people who have it usually live with it for 10 to 15 years before dying.
"People with dementia will gradually lose the ability to swallow, speak or walk and they die from those complications," said Dr. Rojas.
More than a year ago, Paw-Paw had a series of strokes and experienced some of those complications. He almost died twice in the hospital before his health miraculously improved. Though Paw-Paw's Alzheimer's is in the advanced stages, my family remains hopeful.
"Never give up hope. I'll never give up hope. As long as I have him, I'll take care of him," said Maw-Maw.
They've been through the ups and downs of 61 years of marriage, but the greatest challenge is still ahead.
Dr. Sylvia Rojas says it's important for the caretaker to take breaks and get out of the house. She says caring for someone with Alzheimer's can take a toll on the caregiver's health.
Family should talk about wills and living wills while loved ones can still comprehend and make decisions.