Understanding Alzheimer’s while the search continues for a cure

The Means Report

We often hear the word “Alzheimer’s”, but how much do we know about the disease? The search is on for a cure, and researchers are finding ways to help ward off the disease. To explain more about what is being done – and what is on the horizon – is Beth Williams, the Program Director with the Augusta Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Brad Means: We’re switching gears from headaches to Alzheimer’s disease. And to help us do that is the program director for Augusta’s Alzheimer’s Association. She’s Beth Williams, Beth, thanks for being with us. I say Alzheimer’s, you during the commercial break said Alzheimer’s, is it Alzheimer’s?

Beth Williams: Well, that’s how I say it; that’s how most people I know say it.

Brad Means: Yeah?

Beth Williams: Yeah.

Brad Means: Alright, I’ll switch to Alzheimer’s, then.

Beth Williams: Thank you.

Brad Means: For the interview. You’re welcome. Your button says, The End of Alzheimer’s Starts With Me. Y’all think y’all can cure this?

Beth Williams: That’s a big statement, isn’t it? It’s a big, bold statement–

Brad Means: Yeah.

Beth Williams: And you did not miss that, did you, Brad?

Brad Means: Mm mm.

Beth Williams: Do we think we can cure it? We’d like to cure it, that is the hope and that is the goal. Ultimately, the changing trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease might be to continue looking for a cure, but also find a way of maybe delaying the onset for five years. As well.

Brad Means: So, and so when you say delaying the onset, you mean staying symptom-free for five years? Buying us five more years?

Beth Williams: Exactly.

Brad Means: How do you know you have it? When you start forgetting stuff, do you have it?

Beth Williams: Well, you know, there are 10 warning signs. And one of them is: Memory changes that affect everyday life.

Brad Means: So, you’re not talking about like, memories of my childhood? You’re talking about memories of something somebody told me yesterday?

Beth Williams: Well, let’s say, have you ever lost your keys?

Brad Means: Oh, of course.

Beth Williams: Right, and then you find your keys.

Brad Means: Yup.

Beth Williams: And you go to the car, and you sit in the car, and you have no earthly idea how to drive a car or start a car.

Brad Means: Oh.

Beth Williams: That is a memory change that disrupts your daily life.

Brad Means: Mm hmm.

Beth Williams: Losing things, we’re overwhelmed, we’re preoccupied, we’ve lots of stress, we find things eventually. But not knowing how to drive a car when you’ve driven a car for 25, 30 years, that’s a major issue; a major memory change.

Brad Means: Is that why sometimes dementia patients are angry? And ornery, because they’re upset and they know what’s happening to them?

Beth Williams: Ah, you know, I can’t say that I understand it completely.

Brad Means: I mean, haven’t you seen them get grumpy and angry?

Beth Williams: They get angry, they get grumpy because sometimes there’s gaps in their memory.

Brad Means: Mm hmm.

Beth Williams: And they can’t fill the gaps. And then somebody walks up and says, “Well, don’t you remember? “We just talked about this, don’t you remember? “We just did this.” And then, all of a sudden what they know to be their world, it’s disrupted, and they don’t always think it’s them, sometimes they think it’s you.

Brad Means: Mm hmm.

Beth Williams: And then they do get frustrated and they do get angry, yes.

Brad Means: This is not a normal part of aging, though.

Beth Williams: No, sir, it’s not.

Brad Means: It’s not supposed to happen to us, what causes it? Can you inherit the tendency to get Alzheimer’s?

Beth Williams: Well, see, the thing about Alzheimer’s disease, there are some indicators. It’s still considered a disease of old age.

Brad Means: Mm hmm.

Beth Williams: National data says: more women than men. So there’s a gender influencer. And yes, there is some influence that comes from DNA, but all of those together are not a 100%. And one of those characteristics, singularly, is not a 100%, so somebody could be 92 years old, a woman, and have three relatives who had Alzheimer’s disease, and never have the disease.

Brad Means: Once you have it, how quickly does it get worse?

Beth Williams: It is an individualized journey.

Brad Means: Mm hmm.

Beth Williams: So there are people who 15 years, 20 years later they’re still maybe, mid-stage or entering late-stage. There is somebody who is part of my early-stage dementia program when I just started this job, he was diagnosed at 47, and by the time he was 52, 53, his wife was trying to find him an assisted living facility to live in. It went amazingly quickly, very quickly.

Brad Means: A lot of times you’ll hear that somebody has either dementia, early onset, or some form of Alzheimer’s, you’ll bring ’em a bunch of Sudokus, Sudoku books, crossword puzzles, anything to help their brain exercise itself, does that work at all?

Beth Williams: Well, let’s say that you should always keep your brain engaged and you should always challenge your brain. So, if you’re somebody who does Sudoku, you need to stop doing Sudoku.

Brad Means: Is it Sudoku?

Beth Williams: Sudoku?

Brad Means: Yeah.

Beth Williams: Am I saying that wrong now, Brad?

Brad Means: No, I don’t know, I was asking you!

Beth Williams: Brad!

Brad Means: No, I was asking.

Beth Williams: This is television, Brad. You’re razzing me, Brad.

Brad Means: I don’t know what it’s called. Is it Sudoku or Sudoku?

Beth Williams: Now I don’t know.

Brad Means: See, I don’t either.

Beth Williams: But that game. Why are you doing this to me?

Brad Means: No, no, I promise, Beth, I am not hazing you, but anyways. Yeah, you–

Beth Williams: So, they know that game and they do that game well. So, what you would do to help somebody keep their brain engaged, you have to challenge it. So, they would have to switch to an activity that they don’t know well or do well right away. So, we’re constantly needing to challenge your brain and push it with new activities. Language, music, and those type of activities.

Brad Means: Okay, so, if my 30-something-year-old friends are doing a bunch of those Sudoku Sudoku puzzles and crossword puzzles thinking they can ward off Alzheimer’s

Beth Williams: Right.

Brad Means: You can’t ward it off?

Beth Williams: Well, you know, some of the recommendations would be that you need to stay mentally engaged. Challenging our brain. We need to stay physically fit, so that if you have a healthy body, healthy heart, you in turn have a healthier brain. And our diet makes a huge impact. And we need to stay socially connected to other people. We are not meant to be individually, we’re individuals of course, but we’re not supposed to live this life alone; we need each other. So, we need to be around people, and they help us remember, and they help us learn.

Brad Means: Do you do anything at the Association for the Caregivers? It destroys their lives.

Beth Williams: Caregiver stress is very real, so yes, we do have caregiver support groups. And that’s, it’s an opportunity to come in, and you’re with your peers, you’re with a trained facilitator, and you can say in a safe environment exactly how you feel. So, if you wake up that morning and you had a hard time with you husband you can say in that group, “I really hate my husband,” and you will not be judged. And they understand, and you’ll get stories supporting your experience, and you’ll get experiences and suggestions from people who are living through it.

Brad Means: My last question, and it has to deal with trying to convince our loved one that they have a problem. Or that they are at the beginning of something that’s going to be a long, difficult journey. Can the Alzheimer’s Association assist with that intervention?

Beth Williams: Certainly. We have what are called care consultations. Someone would make an appointment with our office, that could happen over the telephone, over our 800 number with our help line–

Brad Means: Mm hmm.

Beth Williams: Or in person with me. And a care consultation when it comes to me in the office, there’s an initial visit, a second visit, and sometimes there’s a third visit. You don’t try and get it all done in one hour.

Brad Means: Right.

Beth Williams: Right.

Brad Means: Well, the work that you do is incredible. I know it’s difficult.

Beth Williams: Thank you.

Brad Means: And I hope that it’s rewarding at some point–

Beth Williams: It is.

Brad Means: For you.

Beth Williams: It absolutely is.

Brad Means: It is?

Beth Williams: Yes it is.

Brad Means: Good. What makes you happy?

Beth Williams: What makes me happy? We have an early stage dementia program, and I’m very proud of it. It’s a place where people with dementia and caregivers can come and they can be themselves. It’s a new normal and it’s a safe, again, a safe environment. And we have a great time together.

Brad Means: Oh, I tell you. Were you about to say something that I cut you off?

Beth Williams: It’s okay.

Brad Means: You’re good?

Beth Williams: I’m good.

Brad Means: Alright, ’cause we have like, seven seconds.

Beth Williams: And, I’m done.

Brad Means: You did a great job. Extremely informative and I am grateful. And I know a lot of people watching who’ve been touched by Alzheimer’s are grateful to you and the Association. We appreciate it.

Beth Williams: Thank you very much, Brad.

Brad Means: Absolutely, Beth Williams, our special guest today. You can find out a lot more by going to www.alz.org There’s the number of the 24/7 help line. No judgment, at all, as Beth said. And please, if you can, send them a donation. All that money goes to such wonderful work, right here in the CSRA.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.