November 6 , 2006
A new century dawns for Alzheimer's Disease discovery and treatment
BY MICHAEL M.E. JOHNS
On Nov. 3, 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer described the characteristics of an unusual case of dementia, later documented as the first case of Alzheimer’s disease. Today, 100 years after Alzheimer shared his discovery, Emory is leading the way in understanding this devastating disease, and in turn, helping patients and families live the highest quality of life possible.
You probably have heard of Alzheimer’s disease and know something about the devastating effects on those who suffer from it as well as the families that agonize over the course it takes.
Alzheimer’s characteristics that you might recognize in a loved one or friend with this progressive brain disorder include memory problems and difficulty learning, reasoning, making judgments, communicating and carrying out daily activities. As the disease progresses, a person may also experience changes in personality and behavior, such as expressing more anxiety or agitation.
Although a cure for Alzheimer’s has not yet been found, new treatments are on the horizon. Effective care and support can improve quality of life for individuals and their caregivers over the course of the disease from diagnosis to the end of life.
If you talk with Allan Levey, chair of the Department of Neurology, he will tell you that we are actually at a place in time where we can offer treatments that have been proven to work. Through his research at Emory and directly working with patients, Levey has shown that the medication Aricept can delay the progression of Alzheimer’s for as long as three years, if given early in the course of the disease.
During the past 15 years, Levey has helped create an important network at Emory of Alzheimer’s research, clinical and education projects. The Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center was formed at Emory, a designation granted by the National Institute of Aging. This honor distinguishes Emory as one of the foremost research and clinical centers for Alzheimer’s disease in the country.
Everyday, Emory research filters into the clinical setting. Stuart Zola, director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and co-director of the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, has developed new diagnostic behavioral tools for diagnosing humans with mild cognitive impairment and with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.
Donald Bliwise, professor of neurology and director of the Program in Sleep, Aging and Chronobiology, is exploring the role of sleep and neurologic dysfunction in Alzheimer’s. Mark Goodman, professor of radiology and director of the PET (positron emission tomography) Imaging Center, said PET images offer a look at brain function to visually track the brain’s metabolism of glucose and oxygen and see the beta amyloid plaques in a living person.
Levey knows that Alzheimer’s is a familial disease with a strong genetic origin. Family ties are very important, both as risk factors and in caring for patients. And Alzheimer’s disease can take a huge toll on caregivers. Caring for Alzheimer’s patients at Emory involves helping an entire family unit. Emotional support and education offered here is crucial to keeping our patients out of nursing homes and in the best possible surroundings.
Our discoveries are leading to better therapies and management of the disease worldwide. At Emory, we are able to develop personalized care for patients and families.
To learn more about managing Alzheimer’s disease, you may contact the Emory Faculty Staff Assistance Program for guidance to resources at 404-727-4328 or http://emory.hr.emory.edu/FSAP.nsf.
The Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center is co-hosting an Alzheimer’s seminar on Nov. 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the School of Nursing auditorium. This seminar will bring Emory’s leading Alzheimer’s experts together to present key information and then allow for questions that you may have. For more information, visit http://www.med.emory.edu/ADRC.