Remembering to fight Alzheimer’s disease
Nancy Corzine worries that she’ll lose her memory. She’s already noticed age-related memory slips with words and names of people. Though her dad could remember every phone number he ever dialed, her mother died of Alzheimer’s a few years ago. Corzine was there for the last eight, seeing her mother, a smart and charming woman, lose her ability to walk, eat and talk.
“It robs you of your humanity,” Corzine said. “If you have cancer or heart disease, you can take part of what you want your treatment to be. When you have Alzheimer’s, you have to completely rely on your loved ones and family.”
Nancy Corzine will be visiting the Vail Valley, along with Howard Fillit, as part of the Vail Symposium speaker series July 10.
Fillit, a geriatrician and neuroscientist, is the founding executive director of the Institute for the Study of Aging, an Estee Lauder family foundation formed in 1998, and the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, an affiliated public charity founded in 2004. Corzine is president of the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation Board of Directors.
Presently, there are 18 million cases worldwide of Alzheimer’s disease, for which there is no known cause or cure, and the number of cases is expected to increase to 34 million by 2025, according to the ISOA.
The ADDF is the only foundation solely dedicated to studying Alzheimer’s disease and has awarded nearly $30 million to 195 research programs and conferences in 12 countries.
In 1997, the first safe and modestly effective treatment for Alzheimer’s came to the market, treating only the symptoms of the disease. Now, companies are on the verge of discovering disease-modifying agents to slow the rate of progression and possibly halt the disease. Ultimately, the goal is to use drugs as preventative agents so people never have to lose their mind from Alzheimer’s, Fillit said.
Alzheimer’s is a relatively new word in medical vocabulary and when Fillit was studying geriatrics in the ’70s, it was unheard of.
“I took care of many older patients who probably had Alzheimer’s, but at the time, nobody was diagnosing it,” Fillit said.
Alzheimer’s is a chronic, progressive and ultimately fatal illness that leaves people unable to take care of themselves. One in three people older than 80 will be affected, making Alzheimer’s the third most costly disease after heart disease and cancer, the ISOA reports.
Alzheimer’s begins with mild memory problems, attention lapses and difficulty in recalling words. As the disease progresses simple tasks become difficult to perform. Long-term memories begin to fade, familiar faces become unrecognizable, and abrupt changes in personality become noticeable.
Mental processing speed slows with aging, and it’s normal for older people to have trouble multitasking or thinking of names to match faces, Fillit said. What differentiates age-related memory problems from Alzheimer’s is when these problems are persistent or when you start forgetting faces or lose your perception of time.
“I would rather die earlier than see my family have to deal with it,” Corzine said of inheriting the disease that killed her mother. “If it hasn’t touched you personally, you have no idea what it’s like.”
Corzine’s main concern is that people realize “we’re all at risk.”
“The ramifications surrounding the disease are monumental – financially and emotionally,” Corzine said. “It’s important that we find a cure, and the only way to do that is through funding.”
To learn more about the ADDF and to hear Fillit and Corzine talk about their experiences, you can attend the Vail Symposium’s Hot Topic luncheon from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Sonnenalp in Vail. The cost is $25 for Vail Symposium contributors and $30 for all others. For tickets, call 476-0954 or visit http://www.vailsymposium.org.