Arthur Brewer, representing the Alzheimer’s Association Capital of Texas Chapter, and manager of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, considers this a family business. He is proud to announce two upcoming events to promote disease research and ongoing efforts to combat the family destroying disease.
"I always wanted the opportunity to speak to my grandfather about the man he was and what life was like for him, my dad and uncles growing up. I wanted to hear funny stories, learn lessons and get his opinions,” Brewer said. “Unfortunately, I lost that opportunity due to dementia. I want to do my part and create a world where you can learn and hear from past generations without their memory being robbed from them."
The upcoming events are scheduled in Williamson County, at Old Settlers Park, on Oct. 15 with information at act.alz.org/willcowalk, and the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Nov. 12 in Austin at Circuit of The Americas (COTA).
Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and inhibits thinking abilities, eventually leading to the inability to carry out even the simplest of tasks. However, the real tragedy in this disease is the loss of memories. Not only those held by the individual who suffers with the disease, but those who lose the ability to reminisce about memories past and the ability to create new memories, moving forward.
Edward Brewer, Arthur’s grandfather, was a loving husband and father of four. He retired from the Air Force and Civil Service after 30 years of giving back to his community. Edward loved travel, and did so avidly with his wife, Brewer’s grandmother, Patricia Brewer.
Brewer recalls that his grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson's around 2009, with changes slowly becoming more noticeable in both his memory and ability to care for himself. Edward continued to do his best to maintain his ability to remain strong, for his family, even through the worst of it. Brewer recalls one particular grueling trip, for his grandfather, as an example of his fortitude and attempt to not allow the disease to take away his ability to be present for his family, in 2011.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s does not give those who suffer its symptoms the option to remain strong, taking away both independence and — even at the most severe — life.
Alzheimer’s disease, currently the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. Dementia is loss of the ability to think, remember and reason, affecting behavioral abilities to the extent that it interferes with daily life and activities. Dementia ranges in severity from mildest stage, slightly affecting a person’s basic functioning, to the last, most severe stage, when an individual is forced to depend completely on others for their basic daily activities of daily living.
The cause of dementia vary, depending on the type of brain change taking place within the individual. These types include Lewy body dementia (brought to the spotlight when Robin Williams was found to have the disease at the time of his death), frontotemporal disorders, and vascular dementia.
There is a common situation for an individual to have mixed dementia, which is a combination of two or more types of dementia, at the same time. An example of this would be a person who has both vascular dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, simultaneously. The causes linked to this disease are still not completely understood but may include a genetic mutation, with many individuals who have downs syndrome linked directly to this disease. Late onset Alzheimer’s may develop over decades and include genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
Dr. Alois Alzheimer noticed specific changes in the brain tissue of a woman who died with an unspecified mental illness diagnosis. After her death, which had been after many memory loss issues, language issues, and a wildly unpredictable behavior, Alzheimer examined examined her brain and found abnormal groups of tissue, now called amyloid plaques, along with intertwined fibers, tangled, now referred to as neurofibrillary, or tau, tangles.
It has been ascertained that these plaques and tangles in the brain are the main features of Alzheimer’s disease. These are accompanied by the loss of connectivity between brain neurons, with a loss of transmission between different parts of the brain, as well as from muscles and body organs back to the brain.
Regardless of the type of dementia an individual suffers the disorder will slowly destroy memory and thinking skills, according to Brewer, who would like to remind the public that experts suggest over six million Americans, most aged 65 or older, may already have dementia caused by Alzheimer’s with symptoms often not showing up until much later in life.
Mild dementia will present with increasing memory loss, and wandering, getting lost or having trouble managing financial decisions, or money, in general. There are often personality and behavioral changes occurring at this time, and people are the most often diagnosed in this stage of the disease. Moderate symptoms may include damage to brain control areas of the brain. It also begins to greatly affect reasoning and conscious thought as well as sensory processing and the ability to detect sounds, smells, and increased confusion with greater memory loss. This stage may include hallucinations, delusions and even paranoia.
Early detection, intervention and support for family caregivers is paramount in this disease progression and management. Many organizations sponsor in-person and online support groups, including for those diagnosed with early stage diagnosis Alzheimer’s disease and their families/caregivers.
Further information may be obtained at the website for Alzheimer’s Association Capital of Texas Chapter, www.alz.org/texascapital.
Betty Cohn is a retired registered nurse with 35 years of experience in the medical field in a variety of roles. She will write a semi-monthly column about medical-related topics and welcomes questions and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.