Posts Tagged ‘Neurology’

Alzheimer’s Caregivers Are Under Stress

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Approximately 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly 14.9 million unpaid caregivers – usually family members – provide care to Alzheimer’s patients, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. The report, 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, sheds more light on the toll the disease takes on not just patients but caregivers.  “Unpaid caregivers are primarily family members, but they also include other relatives and friends,” according to the report.  “In 2010, they provided 17 billion hours of unpaid care, a contribution to the nation valued at over $202 billion.”  Patients with Alzheimer’s live with the disease for an average of four to eight years after diagnosis.  Some live significantly longer, placing additional stress on the caregivers.

According to the association, that level of commitment carries a heavy personal cost. Sixty percent of caregivers are women and the majority are aged 55 and older.  Fully 61 percent of caregivers reported high levels of emotional stress; another 57 percent said that caring for an Alzheimer’s patient involved high physical stress.  The report spells out what those in the Alzheimer’s care community have known, says Elizabeth A. Crocco, MD, chief of geriatric psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.  “We’ve been preaching about this for a long time, that the numbers (with Alzheimer’s) are going to go up and the caregiver numbers have been under-reported,” she said.

Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers can welcome the news about research from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in which human embryonic stem cells are grown into basal forebrain cholinergic neurons, which can stem memory loss.  This breakthrough could lead to healthy replacement neurons being implanted in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients to improve their memory.  “This by itself is not going to cure the disease,” said Dr. Jack Kessler, Northwestern’s chairman of neurology.  “But eventually it can have a big impact on one of the biggest symptoms…the one that bothers people the most, memory loss.”  Huntington Potter, an Alzheimer’s researcher who has been doubtful that stem-cell therapy would work on this disease, called the study a “real breakthrough.  The only problem is that (replacing lost neurons) doesn’t attack the disease itself.”

Christopher Bissonnette, the study’s lead author, grew and tested millions of cells over a six-year period before finding the key to activate the precise gene sequence required to change stem cells into cholinergic neurons.  Bissonnette said he was motivated by his grandfather’s battle with Alzheimer’s.  “I watched the disease slowly and relentlessly destroy his memory and individuality, and I was powerless to help him,” he said.  “That drove me to become a scientist.”

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and – of the 10 leading causes – the only one that can’t be prevented, slowed or cured.