School Life
The Voice

Alzheimer's: Becoming Aware

Maggie McGill '21
Since 1906 when Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician analyzed patient Auguste D’s memory loss and other psychological symptoms to microscopic brain changes, the focus on Alzheimer’s disease has been a serious one. Senior Grace Conboy knows all too well the personal effects of this devastating illness.
Grace’s grandfather suffered from Alzheimer’s for as long as she can remember. In an effort to raise awareness and funds to help fight the disease, Grace and her family participated in an annual Alzheimer walk.  

According to Alzheimer's Association 2018 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's, and by 2050, this number is predicted to rise to nearly 14 million. In 2018, Alzheimer's and other dementias will cost the nation $277 Billion.  

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
When Grace’s grandfather passed away, the family decided to start a Notre Dame team to participate in the Walk to Fight Alzheimer’s. Grace is the captain of the team. “I organize the team for the walk by recruiting students and getting donations to meet our fundraising goals. I advertise the walk and coordinate the Notre Dame cheerleaders to come to the walk and cheer on walkers. Taking on this responsibility has taught me the importance of leadership and dedication.”

Many times people hear the term Alzheimer's and do not really understand what it truly means. The leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research, The Alzheimer’s Association, reports on their website (alz.org)  that “Alzheimer's is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior… As Alzheimer’s progresses, brain cells die and connections among cells are lost, causing cognitive symptoms to worsen.” The Alzheimer’s Association also describes how Alzheimer's symptoms develop slowly and continue to get worse over time, becoming severe enough to prevent one from simple tasks. Alzheimer's is a terminal illness, and in the final stage, people are no longer capable of communicating or responding to their environment, and need help with most activities.

And a scary thing, keeps on getting scarier. 
There is no cure. Patients can only receive treatment to help deal with the symptoms.  Alz.org explains the drug and non-drug options that may help with symptoms. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two types of medications — cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne) and memantine (Namenda) — to treat the cognitive symptoms (memory loss, confusion, and problems with thinking and reasoning) of Alzheimer's disease.”

The fight for a cure is definitely a difficult one and continues with clinical trials that test new interventions and treatment drugs.  These trials must go through four stages before being approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They must perform well enough in each phase to progress to the next one. The criteria to participate include: limiting participants to a certain age range, requiring participants to be in a certain stage of the disease, not allowing health conditions other than the one being studied, not permitting use of other medications, and requiring participation of a caregiver or study partner.

There is also research of prevention of the genetically formed, early-onset Alzheimer's. According to alz.org, “An ongoing clinical trial conducted by the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (
DIAN), is testing whether antibodies to beta-amyloid can reduce the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque in the brains of people with such genetic mutations and thereby reduce, delay or prevent symptoms.” People who are participating in this trial are receiving antibodies before their symptoms develop, and their brain developments are being monitored by brain scans and other tests.

This fight is expensive and requires help. The Alzheimer's Association holds annual walks in more than 600 communities nationwide. These walks raise funds and awareness for Alzheimer's care, support and research.

Alzheimer's is scary. Alzheimers has no cure. But with research, raising awareness, funds and most importantly, coming together to fight, our world will get closer and closer to being Alzheimer’s free. As Grace Conboy says, “by educating themselves, students can become aware of the disease. By participating in walks, students can help raise the necessary funds to fight it.”
 
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Notre Dame High School

Located on 100 beautiful acres in Central New Jersey, Notre Dame High School, founded in 1957, is a college preparatory school for grades 9 - 12, preparing young men and women for lives of purpose, built upon a foundation of Catholic faith, with a commitment to academics, co-curricular activities and service to others.