The numbers are daunting — 5.4 million Americans now have Alzheimer's disease, and over 15 million Americans provide unpaid care to someone with Alzheimer's or another dementia-related disorder.
Sentiments of hope on Christmas cards or Hallmark movies with happy endings can hardly muster an attitude of hope from those affected by this seemingly hopeless disease.
But hope can be possible if our perspectives change just a little.
Hope implies that there is a meaning in what the future holds. It is linked to a trust and belief in a compassionate God or some other higher power. Hope is connected to when an individual has discovered purpose and meaning in life, then he or she is hopeful during the most difficult times. And, hope is most often found when everything else has been stripped away, and there seems no logical reason to hope.
So, is there a logical reason to hope amid the devastation of Alzheimer's disease?
Yes. Hopeful things are happening in the world of Alzheimer's disease.
For instance, awareness of the disease is growing and it is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore. Either through research or through celebrity platforms, most recently the contributions by Bill Gates, Alzheimer's disease has emerged as disease to be fought and overcome.
There's hope in the reports that dementia rates for those 65 and older dropped 24 percent between 2000 and 2012 due to more people practicing better brain health lifestyles.
Also a hopeful sign is that there are five large-scale clinical trials designed to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms. Researchers have made progress in confirming that the tau protein plays a key role in memory loss; research that can spur tau-targeting treatments and lead to better diagnostic tools.
And, researchers have found, too, that chronic inflammation increase the risk of Alzheimer's, and that the antidote for battling inflammation may be through diet, exercise and self-care.
Likewise in the area of research, lysozyme, a major property in the immune system, has potential as a new biomarker as well as a therapeutic target for Alzheimer's disease. Other research findings suggest drugs that treat glaucoma and high cholesterol may potentially lower Alzheimer's risk.
Finally, hope for a cure went up tremendously last year when Congress approved an additional $350 million in federal funds for research, which was 60 percent more than allocated in 2015.
These advances in research and awareness are promising, but for the affected person and his or her caregiver, where is that hope?
The answer lies in a hope that the future holds more possibilities than one can imagine or understand.
Having a sense of hope is a part of our inner spirituality and provides encouragement and strength to stay involved regardless of health status. The spiritual task of life is to feed hope. The person with Alzheimer's disease or dementia is valuable because he or she exists, not for what he or she can or cannot do. Alzheimer’s is not his or her identity anymore than someone is defined by a broken hip. People with this disease, like all others, are of great value and they still have gifts and abilities to bring to the community in which they live. They have a name, a spirit, feelings, a unique personality and, most of all, each has a life story. They experience joy and still give and receive love and attention. Inside they are hopeful creatures. And so are their caregivers. And it is hope that sustains all of them.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.