My grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease for as long as I remember being around her—we lived overseas so I really only saw her for two months out of the year (so I don’t have that many memories of her in the first place), but the most recent ones were definitely ones in which she didn’t really know who I was. She’d refer to my sister as I as “dear” and say “oh it’s YOU!!” very excitedly.
We lucked out—my grandma was the sweetest person ever, even when she didn’t know who we were. My mom referred to her as “my cute mommy” and held back tears whenever it really struck her that her own mother didn’t recognize her. But my grandmother was truly a joy to be around—she’d walk up to baby dolls and treat them like real babies, and pet little dogs or cats that were on greeting cards that she’d read over and over again (and be surprised by what they said each time!).
Grandma had also developed diabetes—which could get her in to some trouble because she’d sneak cookies whenever she could! My mom would catch her and say “Mom, you can’t eat that, you’re diabetic!” to which grandma would respond, “I AM?!” She made for some cute stories, and at least all of my memories of her are positive ones.
Not everyone is that lucky. Many people that get Alzheimer’s become aggressive, and are not really very pleasant to be around. There are tons of medications that people can take to treat some of the symptoms of the disease, but I wonder if we should be adding happy pills to the mix.
Alzheimer’s is one of those diseases where we don’t really treat the cause, we mostly only treat the symptoms; probably because many things can go wrong in the brain which can kick-start the disease. Basically what happens is a combination of things which lead to protein aggregation and plaque buildups in the brain, which cause brain cell death and overall brain shrinkage.
Some of the things that can cause these plaque buildups include:
- An increased activity of the PI3K pathway (a pathway which helps to regulate the cell lifecycle)
- An increased resistance to insulin (an important part in the PI3K pathway)
- An increased activity of mTOR (a pathway related to brain synapse growth)
Alzheimer’s disease can be really difficult not only for those whom have the disease, but also for those that interact with people with Alzheimer’s. I think that we should we at least try to make their memory-less existence bliss, and make life more enjoyable for their fearless caretakers.