>Elizabeth Edgerly, Ph.D.
>Elizabeth Edgerly, Ph.D. is the Area Program Director of the
>Alzheimer's Association of Northern California. Dr. Edgerly oversees
>the many programs of the Association for patients, families and
>health care professionals. In addition, she staffs the Medical Scientific
>Advisory Council of the Alzheimer's Association - Northern California.
>She received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the State University of
>New York and specialized in geropsychology and neuropsychology.
>Dr. Edgerly joined the Alzheimer's Association after completing a
>fellowship in clinical geropsychology at the Palo Alto VA Hospital.
>Dr. Edgerly, who is a licensed clinical psychologist, has worked with
>caregivers and persons with dementia in nursing home, day care,
>in-home care, and acute medical settings.
>Dr. Edgerly will provide an overview of the current state of
>Alzheimer's research, including comments on the "shunt" being
>developed by Eunoe.
Dr. Edgerly began her talk by saying that some loss of memory, word finding difficulties, and forgetfulness is a normal part of getting older. Alzheimer's is different because it is a global and progressive deterioration of all aspects of a person's ability to function normally. She listed many symptoms of Dementia which boiled down to trouble putting your thoughts in order and maintaining a reasonably normal routine. 90% of Dementia is caused by Alzheimer's and related disorders, with the remaining 10% being accounted for by reversible conditions such as depression, infections and side effects of medication.
Dr. Edgerly then explained that Alzheimer's disease is a progressive degenerative brain disease with a gradual onset. It is characterized by atrophy of brain cells and the development of plaques and tangles in the brain. Onset can be as early as the 40s, but is more common as people age. 3% of people age 65 to 74 get it. The percentage goes up to almost half of those above age 85. It is more likely in people with a history of head injury or a genetic predisposition towards it. Women are also a bit more likely to get it than men.
Alzheimer's tends to progress over a two to twenty year period, with every case being different, although the average case takes about eight years to run its course. Generally cases are classified in early (not much loss of functionality), middle, and late (assisted living necessary) stages. The main treatment options known at this time are drugs that enhance memory, medication and strategies to manage symptoms like depression and hallucinations, and Vitamin E to slow decline.
There is much work going on into ways to prevent Alzheimer's disease, but to date the most promising approaches are increasing the amount of Vitamin E & C in your diet and keeping mentally challenged. Dr. Edgerly showed us cross sections of a normal brain and an Alzheimer's affected brain, and it was clear that the Alzheimer's one had lost a lot of neurons compared to the other one. She then explained that all people with Alzheimer's have that look, but there are also people who showed no symptoms, but whose brains have been examined posthumously and found to have the deteriorated.
Because there is large and growing population of people suffering from Alzheimer's, considerable money is going into research on various aspects of the disease. Genetic research has uncovered a few genes that do seem to be risk factors. Enzyme research has uncovered the process that may cause plaque deposits in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. Diagnosis research has shown that PET scans may help us identify the disease at an early stage, years before symptoms appear. Experimental interventions of various types have been tried at this point, but none have been spectacularly successful. The most interesting one was an oversized watch that had built in GPS equipment and a cell phone that could be used to locate Alzheimer's patients who have wandered off.
Dr. Edgerly finished her talk by introducing the Alzheimer's Association, whose mission is "Creating a world without Alzheimer's and enhancing quality of life for those who live with it." The association helps by being an information resource, supporting families of sufferers with education and training, doing multicultural outreach, and providing for the safe return of wanderers. She then invited us to advocate, volunteer, and donate to the cause.
For more information visit http://www.alznorcal.org .