Monthly Archives: December 2016

10 Reasons to Be Hopeful About the Future of Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease and good news? Somehow these two terms don’t fit.

After all, more than five million Americans are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., which kills more of us than breast and prostate cancer combined. Some experts estimate that as many as 16 million could be afflicted by 2050.

In 2016 alone, Alzheimer’s and other related dementias have cost America an estimated $236 billion. While that figure is staggering, the real cost to families and caregivers is immeasurable.

As we face a new year of fighting Alzheimer’s, the reality is that so much about this disease is still unknown and there are more questions than answers. What drives disease progression? What treatments are most effective? How can we help afflicted families?

After looking into 2016 research findings, initiatives and information on treatment and prevention, I was heartened by what I found. Before we say farewell to 2016, let’s stop and look for hope on the horizon, not to make us complacent but to keep the positive momentum going forward.

Here are 10 reasons why I am feeling more hopeful about the future of Alzheimer’s.1. Awareness grew in 2016

Alzheimer’s is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore. The sheer numbers make it clear that we either know or will know a loved one with the disease, and awareness is higher than ever due to:


  • An awareness push throughout November, which is both National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Caregivers Month.
  • Trailblazing organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association, which spotlight the latest in research, funding and action.
  • Celebrity is a powerful platform. While there’s no one spokesperson to singlehandedly bang the drum for awareness and activism, celebrities like B. Smith and her husband Dan Gasby emerged this year as vocal advocates for more research and treatments, as they shared their saga of her shocking early onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis a few years ago.
  • The 2016 loss of beloved actor and cultural icon Gene Wilder. We were publicly reminded just how insidious the disease is, as we discovered the toll Wilder’s symptoms had on his final years and family.


2. Dementia rates dropped

Dementia rates for the 65-and-over crowd dropped 24 percent from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine report. There may be no cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia-related illnesses, but research shows that better overall health means better brain health. We don’t have to wonder if lifestyle changes will help us make to prevent or slow dementia. The numbers bear this out:


  • There’s a positive connection between higher levels of education and lower risk of dementia, including that the higher educated exercise more and both weigh and smoke less.
  • Doctors and patients are paying more attention to controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which raise the risk of strokes that lead to cognitive decline.


3. More progress on the tau-amyloid connection

In 2013, I profiled Dr. Claude Wischik, a renowned researcher who’s spent the last 30 years immersed in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. In a research climate that’s been focused on the amyloid protein, he’s spent decades trying to focus research and funding efforts on the tau protein – which can best be described as the twisted brain fibers, or “tangles,” found in Alzheimer’s patients – as the disease’s central culprit. Tau and amyloid have long been implicated as cognitive decline culprits. But the two camps have disagreed on which was the main cause of Alzheimer’s.

Now there are more indications that the tau protein plays a key role in memory loss. As noted recently in Science Magazine, “Although this evidence won’t itself resolve the amyloid-tau debate, the finding could spur more research into new, tau-targeting treatments and lead to better diagnostic tools.”

And while earlier studies suggested that the two proteins existed in separate brain regions, new research shows the early-stage presence of both, and in the same brain region. “This study shows that specific forms of tau and amyloid appear early in the disease process in the same brain region, before plaques and tangles are formed,” Professor Bettina Platt, Chair in Translational Neuroscience at the University of Aberdeen, said in a news release earlier this month. “Understanding which forms of tau and amyloid drive the early stages of Alzheimer’s will allow scientists to design drugs to target these specific forms and find new ways to accurately diagnose people.”

4. Fighting chronic inflammation may be a key prevention tool

Most of us have heard how chronic inflammation is detrimental to our health and can be, in particular, a major factor in autoimmune diseases. Earlier this year, a study published in Brain: a Journal of Neurology revealed that inflammation may drive Alzheimer’s, too. The good news is that there are clear-cut ways to battle inflammation through diet, exercise and self-care. Will a chemical to lower neuroinflammation help protect memory and prevent Alzheimer’s? The next step is testing a drug targeting inflammation related to Alzheimer’s.

5. New Alzheimer’s marker offers hope for treatment

The more we learn about the clinical markers found in people with Alzheimer’s, the greater chances of discovering new treatments to stop or slow those markers. Scientists are always on the hunt for clinical markers that matter. This year, Science Daily reported the discovery of an important new marker called lysozyme, an enzyme that plays a part in immune system health and may play a role in helping to fight Alzheimer’s.

6. Joint Alzheimer’s-Parkinson’s research could mean new treatments for both conditions

Sometimes, combining research efforts can lead to discoveries greater than the sum of their parts. This occurred when imaging to map brain communication showed promise for helping us better understand memory function and motor circuitry. Mallar Chakravarty, Ph.D., of Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal, announced in July that, “our analysis has the potential to significantly impact the design of novel therapeutic interventions intended to delay disease onset, and could potentially suggest new targets for the prevention of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” It may also help assess early risk of the two diseases for the otherwise healthy.

7. Existing glaucoma and high cholesterol drugs may lower Alzheimer’s risk

Much of our focus is on new research, new treatments and new drugs. Now we know that two existing drugs are already making a difference.


  • Brimonidine, a glaucoma medication, has been shown to stop amyloid proteins from forming in the retina. Given the strong link between amyloid proteins and Alzheimer’s – and the fact that some scientists view retinas as a de facto window into the brain where they can scope out Alzheimer’s activity – there’s great hope for the benefits of brimonidine down the road. Researchers at University College of London, who shared their findings earlier this month, have their fingers crossed that this eye medication will also help the brain.
  • Another study this year found that statins used to treat high cholesterol may also help reduce Alzheimer’s risk. According to the lead researcher, Julie Zissimopoulos, “All of the statins seem to have some risk reduction, although the findings are much more consistent for the prescription drugs simvastatin and atorvastatin, meaning they consistently reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease across men and women and across most race and ethnic groups.”


8. 5 major clinical trials aimed at Alzheimer’s prevention

“We’re living in the era of the prevention trial,” Keith Fargo, Director of Scientific Programs and Outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association told Research Gate, an information service created by scientists for other scientists, in August.

According to the Research Gate report, there are currently five large-scale clinical trials designed to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms.

“An effective prevention could potentially save a half a million lives a year in the US alone, and even more in the future as the population grows,” Fargo told the magazine.

9. One South American country could offer clues for future prevention

In Antioquia, Colombia, there’s a generational thread made up entirely of extended family members with a gene that leads to Alzheimer’s disease, with onset usually in the mid-40s. As sad as this anomaly is for those afflicted, a 60 Minutes report this year provided hope by revealing how it provides a unique scientific opportunity to test treatments on a relatively large, similar sample. National Institute of Health, philanthropists and a drug company are spending millions of dollars on study to see if Alzheimer’s is preventable by administering a drug to remove amyloid plaque. Results aren’t expected until 2021.

10. Federal funding for research highest in history

This year, Congress approved an additional $350 million in federal funds for Alzheimer’s research — the biggest-ever spike and 60 percent over 2015 levels. Right now, the total annual funding for NIH for Alzheimer’s and related dementias stands at $991 million. There are proposed increases in both the House and Senate for a 2017 increase, and that’s a step in the right direction, if not the huge leap toward the annual $2 billion amount it’s projected our nation needs to prevent and treat Alzheimer’s. Where do we go from here with federal funding?

Given raised levels of awareness and public demand for action, there is pressure on for more support at the federal level, and non-profits and private organizations will continue their focus on funding for prevention and treatment, too.


Knowledge Is Power: 3 Ways to Plan Ahead When You’re a Severe-Stage Caregiver

Knowledge Is Power: 3 Ways to Plan Ahead When You’re a Severe-Stage Caregiver

Did you know that one of the ultimate causes of stress is uncertainty? Not knowing what lies ahead can eat at your very soul, if you let it. “Knowledge is power” is more than a cliche. It’s a life raft, especially for dementia caregivers. What helps: Find out what lies ahead in the course of this awful disease. You may think you don’t want to know, but you’ll be stronger when the time comes.

How to do this?

  • First, collect as much information as you can about what to expect. Read (or reread) the Caregiver’s Guide to Mid Severe-Stage Dementia as well as the Caregiver’s Guide to Late Severe-Stage Dementia.
  • Second, collect experiences. Find out what others in the same situation went through. Ask those in your Stage Group as well as others you meet who have lost loved ones to Alzheimer’s. Their stories may not be exactly the same — and their advice might not always be transferable. But it may light up some of the dark corners of the unknown that you’re now facing.
  • Third, accept that you can’t know, or control, everything. Knowledge can help you plan ahead, mull possibilities, and be less frightened when changes occur. But there are limits, too, and it’s useful to be aware of this.

3 Sweet Treats for Someone With Dementia Who’s Having Trouble Swallowing

3 Sweet Treats for Someone With Dementia Who’s Having Trouble Swallowing

Many people continue to have a preference for sweets even as other aspects of appetite fade and swallowing becomes more difficult. By the severe stage of your loved one’s dementia, there’s little downside to indulging a taste for sweets, if it applies.

Here are three choices to try:

  • A milkshake

Milkshakes are a good way to get calcium (from milk and ice cream) into a finicky eater or someone who has trouble swallowing. But really, at this stage of disease, most doctors agree the nutrition in food is secondary to the pleasure it can provide. For a lifelong chocoholic, a chocolate shake can trigger special gratification.

  • A fruit smoothie

When made with yogurt and fruit, you provide a calcium- and nutrient-rich cocktail, and you can mix endless combinations. You can add a little ground flaxseed for the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.

  • A small bit of jam placed on the tongue

For a sweet taste without a lot of swallowing, try placing a small portion (a pea-sized amount) on the person’s tongue — not enough to choke but enough to be savored. Go for high-quality jams made mainly of whole fruit, whose flavors will be richer.

Polk Man Devoted to Helping Migrants and Their Children

Sunday Posted Feb 21, 2016 at 7:28 PM        from The Ledger

Jere Gault navigates his silver Buick sedan down busy State Road 60 on the outskirts of Mulberry, exhorting his passengers to open their eyes — and wallets — to the plight of migrant laborers and their children. Especially the children. Several times a month, Gault, 73, takes time from his work as a commercial real estate broker to lead tours off the beaten path, taking people into the hidden communities of farmworker families. As a political conservative, he’s keenly sensitive to the controversy over undocumented laborers, yet Gault has had a personal epiphany on the subject and remains committed to helping those who venture into this country illegally to support their families.

“Jesus did not say, ‘Let the children come unto me so I can see they’re properly documented,’” he said. Gault begins his three-hour excursions at Mulberry Middle School, which has more migrant students — 85 — than any other school in Polk. Many of these children are destined to follow in the footsteps of parents and guardians whose labors fill supermarket produce shelves. Some hope to break the cycle of farm labor through academic excellence. Gault has made it his mission to boost their numbers. Through a ministry he co-founded at his home church, First United Methodist of Lakeland, the ruddy, Alabama native is pairing some of Mulberry’s most talented migrant students with mentors who double as benefactors. In the two years that his church ministry has been up and running, Gault and his band of volunteers have helped facilitate college opportunities for 26 children, either through direct financial support or providing guidance and resources for scholarships. At the direction of migrant advocates for the Polk County School District, students who aspire for higher learning are singled out while still in middle school. Gault and his recruits attend to their needs, keeping the flame alive. “He’s awesome,” said Beth Harvey, a member of First United Methodist, after taking one of Gault’s tours. “You just don’t realize what’s happening. I want to get involved.” People who enlist in Gault’s cause often find themselves drawn to helping children experience more of their adopted country, said George Overstreet, a retired Navy commander and member of First United Methodist who has “pretty much adopted” a teenage girl from Mexico. Overstreet said he and his wife, Alice, have introduced the girl to pecan pie, the symphony, to Bonefish Grill. They paid to have Wi-Fi installed at the girl’s home so that she didn’t have to study at McDonald’s. “He (Jere) is a very deserving person who is very passionate about helping the migrant children achieve their dreams and break the cycle of labor in the fields,” Overstreet said. “Jere came from a humble background and wants to help young migrants who are working so hard to achieve the success he has had in life. He gets great pleasure in helping others, especially those who are in such need.” Jere Gault was born April 8, 1942, in Birmingham, Ala., to parents Shirley and Leon, who joined the Marines and suffered a debilitating back injury during the Battle of Okinawa in the World War II. The elder Gault eventually set up a small automotive repair shop in Birmingham, while his wife did secretarial work for Alabama state government. As a child, Jere Gault and his two younger brothers enjoyed hunting and riverbank camping. Fishing was especially memorable, he said, recalling how his father used dynamite to stun fish to the surface for easy netting. While attending the University of Alabama, Gault met his future wife. He worked days and took classes at night, a routine that lasted eight years, before graduating from the University of Louisiana at Monroe with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1970. Gault also served six years with the Alabama National Guard as a helicopter maintenance supervisor, leaving his unit the same year he completed his college degree. By then, he’d been married six years and had a daughter. In 1971, the couple’s second daughter was born. The Gaults raised their children in the Florida Panhandle community of Gulf Breeze, where Jere Gault began his 34-year career with State Farm Insurance. He retired from the company at age 58 while serving as a district manager in St. Petersburg. In 2004, he and his wife moved to Lakeland to be closer to family. It wasn’t long before Gault acquired a real estate broker’s license and opened a one-man operation out of his home. A chance encounter with a migrant family piqued Gault’s interest in the subject of illegal migration, forcing him to reconsider his own views on the matter. Nothing is black and white, he said, and many are taken advantage of because of fears that hold them hostage to high rent, low pay. Frustration turned to action. Gault teamed with Marcia Alley, a member of First United Methodist, to raise awareness of the plight of migrant families, including undocumented immigrants. “He’s the bull that charged into this,” Alley said. “He didn’t stop. We had to convince people that this is real, that these kids needed people outside of their community.” Gault’s enthusiasm is infectious, she said, and offers of help have poured in. “He has a wonderful gift of gab. He can deliver our message on the big stage and everybody gets it. It’s a spiritual thing with both of us.” Through Gault’s tours, church testimony and Facebook page, people from well beyond Polk County have donated money, goods and services, things like computers, musical instruments, clothing, blankets, beds, food. Scholars who go on academic field trips, or college tours, often receive monetary assistance through the federal Title 1 program, but there are many ancillary costs that aren’t covered, things like application fees, overnight delivery and postage, luggage, dress clothing. These are a small sampling of the kinds of things Gault’s ministry provides. “A lot of what he’s done is bring awareness of the need of our (migrant) neighbors,” said Dani Torres, migrant advocate for Mulberry Middle School. “He wants to make sure they not only get to college, but get through college. … People can see how genuine he is. I wish there were more of him.” The car exits onto a rutted, dirt road leading to a small, cloistered community of aging single-wide trailers. “When I started doing this, I thought this was just terrible, I’m going to call code enforcement and have this shut down,” Gault said of the poor condition of the homes, homes often crowded with several families. “But where are they going to live?” Pragmatism aside, Gault remains a relentless advocate for migrants, spending much of his own money and time, friends said, to improve lives and help secure the future of children. Gault prefers to take little credit. “It’s really the body of Christ working in a wonderful way,” he said. “I’m just an instrument.”

Eric Pera can be reached at or 863-802-7528.