Alzheimer’s disease advocate and author David B. Troxel warned that the “most expensive disease in the U.S.” is diagnosed every 68 seconds in America, and that a death from Alzheimer’s touches one in every four or five American families.
There is no magic pill to halt Alzheimer’s disease, said Troxel, who spoke at a Dec. 5 Rotary Club of Los Altos Rotary meeting.
While 460 unique compounds were researched in the U.S. between 2002 and 2012, the failure rate was 99.6 percent, Troxel said. Although core knowledge about Alzheimer’s doubles every 18 months, long-term care is needed for the 15 million cases estimated to be diagnosed by 2050, he added.
Troxel, co-author of five books on caring for Alzheimer’s sufferers, shared history of the affliction.
In 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician, coined the term “lunacy” for the profound memory loss and delusions suffered by his patient, Auguste Deter. After Deter’s death, Alzheimer documented an abnormal buildup of plaque in her brain cells.
Among the numerous varieties of dementia, the pioneering doctor’s name is still used for the largest – Alzheimer’s disease. Troxel said small strokes are the second most common cause of dementia. Among the U.S. population 85 and older, 50 percent are expected to develop Alzheimer’s, he noted, while the younger onset form of the disease already affects 400,000 to 500,000 Americans.
A number of symptoms point to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Troxel said, including short-term memory loss that disrupts daily life; disorientation; challenges in solving problems and planning, like the steps in making coffee; confusion of time and place; new problems in speaking and writing words; misplacing items; and losing the ability to retrace steps. Dr. Bruce Miller, director of the UC San Francisco Memory and Aging Center, documented an accompanying early spike in creativity.
The four drugs commonly prescribed can slow – but do not halt – dementia. Troxel advocates the “Best Friends Approach” for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Because an Alzheimer’s patient may feel like a stranger in a foreign land, socialization is important in stimulating brain activity. Purposeful chores like sweeping the patio, watering plants and learning in a class setting are helpful, he said. Troxel also recommended exercise, creative activities, conversations with laughter, music, exercise, being outdoors and contact with animals as valuable.
Informing caregivers of the positive events in a patient’s “life story” could help them connect with the fading memory of their patient, Troxel noted. Stories could include the patient’s favorite ball team, a cherished tea party, a prized accomplishments or a favorite song. Troxel said lyrics “live in a different part of the brain” from logical thought, so they are more easily recalled.
The knack for discovering clever strategies to approach the difficult problem of caring for an Alzheimer’s sufferer requires humor, flexibility, patience and respect for the patient, said Troxel, adding that one facility organized a grape-stomping event that brought exercise and laughter to patients.
Troxel said that in his estimation, the best Alzheimer’s caregivers would be barmaids and beauticians, because they are accustomed to listening and chatting.
For more information on Alzheimer’s disease, visit the Mountain View-based Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada at alz.org.
Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.