Alzheimer's:She Never Said Goodbye (cont.)

Moderator: May I ask how old your wife is?

Ellison: My wife is 64 now.

Moderator: Is there a typical age range in which Alzheimer's sets in?

Ellison: It varies. It is estimated that at age 65, about 10% of the population has Alzheimer's. At age 85, almost 50%. My wife came down with it in her mid-fifties which is referred to as early onset Alzheimer's. Some people in their twenties have gotten it. It's unusual. As you grow older, the chances start multiplying rapidly.

Moderator: How did your wife's behavior change from the onset of her disease to the present day? How rapidly did these changes take place?

Ellison: It came on rather slowly. There were some incidents as I think back, some of the things that she did that were not explainable were probably due to Alzheimer's but we weren't aware of it at the time. The real things that started out was she became depressed, confused, forgetful, and as things went on, she started becoming hostile, which was nothing that I could relate to. That wasn't her. She changed into another person.

Moderator: How does this affect you, as the spouse?

Ellison: It doesn't just affect the individual that has it. It affects those around them, spouses, children, relatives, everybody becomes involved. It's hard. The caregivers -- and I've talked to many of them and everybody kind of handles it differently. It's a hard job. The title "caregiver" is all encompassing because you are the caregiver for somebody who has Alzheimer's. That's another interesting point. It is estimated that by 2005, elder care will surpass child care. There will be more elderly requiring care than there will be children. That's going to be increasing significantly.

Moderator: Are we as a society prepared for the coming onslaught of gerontological need?

Ellison: I'm going to have to use the words of Kenneth Dychtwald, the author of book called Age Power. He says we are not even close to being prepared. The baby boomers -- I was around that time -- in 1945, millions of service men came home in 1945. A year later, we were not ready for all the babies that were coming down like a rain storm. The hospitals were not ready. There were not enough pediatricians. Children were being born in hallways. The schools weren't ready for them either. When the baby boomers came forth, baby food was in short supply, diapers, there wasn't enough toys. They went to the school system and they kind of wreaked havoc everywhere they've been. There's not enough geriatric practitioners to even begin to take care of the elderly. As he sees it, he sees a disaster about ready to happen here as these 78 million baby boomers reach old age.

Moderator: What drugs are currently available to help slow down the deterioration of those with Alzheimer's Disease?

Ellison: Right now the principle one is Aricept(donepezil). My wife was on tacrine (Cognex). That was part of the first medication that was supposed to slow the effects of Alzheimer's. Those things only last for maybe six to nine months. It does slow it down but does not cure it.

Moderator: Are you aware of any promising new treatments on the horizon?

Ellison: There are all kinds of tests going on. I was just talking to my wife's sorority sister's husband. He's a research physician on Alzheimer's at the University of Kentucky. He was talking about different things being done. He said he saw no real breakthrough for at least 15 years. A lot of people involved in Alzheimer's research, they meet semi-annually to share information gathered, to network as to latest developments in research efforts.

Moderator: Are there any things people can do to prevent Alzheimer's?

Ellison: That's the problem. They don't know what the cause is. If you don't know the cause, you can't really plan for prevention. Like weight control, you know if you eat too much, you're going to have a weight problem. All kinds of theories have been tested and eliminated. As of yet, they just don't know.

Moderator: Alzheimer's is a genetic condition?

Ellison: My understanding is that people can be predisposed to it through genetics or family history. My understanding is that in the case studies, they have identified like 120 families where everybody in every generation has come down with Alzheimer's. That's an unusual situation there.

Moderator: With all of the recent news about genetics and genetic research, how will this affect Alzheimer's disease in the future?

Ellison: Undoubtedly it's going to help somewhere along the line. This has been the decade of the brain. President Bush signed that in as the decade of the brain. In a recent article, they have found out more about the brain  -- 90% of what they know about the brain has been learned in the last ten years. They expect further brain research is even going to be more significant in the future. Right now, there is no solution for Alzheimer's, no cure and no prevention. Nobody knows what causes it.

Moderator: Do we ever see a natural reversal of the effects of Alzheimer's disease without any assistance from medical technology?

Ellison: I've never heard of it.

Moderator: Once diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia, what are the options available?

Ellison: Early onset, they can take Aricept. Alzheimer's progresses at different rates in different people. Every case is different. Some people can be diagnosed and die within two or three years. Some can be diagnosed and live for 20. The path they take varies in speed and what happens to people. There's no reversing. You don't go backward. People just proceed along the path at different speeds.