Q.: My 85-year-old uncle was just diagnosed with Alzheimer's, so he has joined two other brothers and a sister who were afflicted by the horrible degenerative disease.
My father is 82, and he's slowing down but shows no specific signs of the dementia. What's the latest on Alzheimer's research? Is there something around the corner that could help my dad before he possibly follows the same course as his three brothers and sister?
A.: Recent Alzheimer's research offers some hope in pinning down the cause of the disease and a treatment by showing that a lucky few people carry a genetic mutation that naturally prevents them from developing the condition.
The discovery confirms the principal suspect - amyloid beta plaques - that is responsible for Alzheimer's.
The mutation - the first ever found to protect against the disease - lies in a gene that produces amyloid beta precursor protein, which has an unknown role in the brain and has long been suspected to be at the heart of Alzheimer's. The latest finding supports other genetics studies blaming amyloid beta, and it makes the protein "the prime therapeutic target," said Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
If amyloid beta plaques were confirmed as the cause of Alzheimer's, it would bolster efforts to develop drugs that block their formation in order to treat or prevent the ravaging condition, said Dr. Kari Stefansson, chief executive of deCODE Genetics in Reykjavik, Iceland, who led the latest research.
The mutation is rare, but it has a huge impact on those fortunate enough to inherit even a single copy of it. Compared with their countrymen who lack the mutation, Icelanders who carry it are more than five times more likely to reach 85 without being diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
The mutation seems to put a brake on the milder mental deterioration that most elderly people experience. A drug that mimics the effects of the mutation, Stefansson said, would have the potential both to slow cognitive decline and to prevent Alzheimer's.
There is plenty of help available from your local Home Instead Senior Care office for those seniors who suffer from Alzheimer's or other dementias. Home Instead CAREGivers are trained to work with seniors who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
A CAREGiver also can assist with medication reminders, meal preparation, light housekeeping and transportation. Go to HelpforAlzheimersFamilies.com for additional resources that could help your family.
For more information about Home Instead Senior Care, contact DeLauter at 866-522-6533 or go to www.homeinstead.com.
The Home Instead Senior Care network's 2012 Family Caregiver Support Web Seminar Series features monthly seminars for family caregivers on a variety of topics that can help them care for their aging loved ones. Learn more about the topics and register at Caregiverstress.com/familyeducation.
DeLauter is the owner of the Lewisburg office.