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What Biden Should Do for Alzheimer’s & Other Favorite February Reads

By | February 26th, 2021

What can the Biden administration do to stop Alzheimer’s? How can people with advanced stages of cognitive decline experience end-of-life moments of lucidity? What lessons can we learn at the lonely intersection of the pandemic and dementia? In case you missed them, our contributors round up their favorite reads of February.

To stay on top of the latest news in Alzheimer’s and dementia, and to represent a breadth of voices, we do a lot of reading. Here are some of the articles from other outlets that contributors found the most interesting, moving, and important.

The Guardian: ‘The Clouds Cleared’: What Terminal Lucidity Teaches Us About Life, Death and Dementia, Feb. 23

This article by Alex Godfrey in The Guardian focuses on the fascinating phenomenon of terminal lucidity, an unexplainable yet commonly observed event wherein individuals with dementia or other fatal diseases suddenly regain cognition and personality near the end of their life. Researchers are planning a study with hundreds of dementia patients in New York City hospices, recording the electrical activity in their brains, to try and understand what is happening neurobiologically during these periods of lucidity. With this data, they hope to discover a way to stimulate the brain of someone with severe dementia back into consciousness. Alicia Barber 

TIME: How The Biden Administration Can Fight Alzheimer’s, Feb. 24

On November 7 in President Joseph Biden’s victory speech, he gave many people hope when he said: “You see, I believe in the possibility of this country. We’re always looking ahead … Ahead to an America that cures disease — like cancer and Alzheimers.” In this op-ed published by TIME Magazine, Maria Shriver, the founder of Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, and chair of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s George Vradenburg, call on the Biden administration to deliver on the promise he made in his victory speech. How to do that? Shriver and Vrandenburg say it’s time to launch an Operation Warp Speed for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, leveraging the same unparalleled collaborative public-private partnership — unhindered by red tape — between pharmaceutical companies, NIH and FDA that emerged in the quest to develop COVID-19 vaccines. Alzheimer’s, also a pandemic, should be treated with the same all-in urgency: “Leveraging this model to combat Alzheimer’s will be critical – especially as the disease is unlikely to be solved with a simple vaccine,” the authors write. Alexandra Marvar

The New York Times, Opinion: We Are Going to Keep You Safe, Even if It Kills Your Spirit,’ Feb. 19

As many well know, nursing homes were among the hardest hit during the pandemic. In a New York Times op-ed, freelance journalist Katie Engelhart shares what she discovered during her year-long deep dive into understanding “what it feels like to live through this terribly disorienting time inside a mind that is already deeply disoriented.” She chronicles the fear, frustration, loneliness and confusion amongst people with dementia, now confined to their rooms and without the activities and routines that gave their lives structure and greater purpose. One gentleman, confused about the virus, asked: “How long are they going to keep us locked up in here like goddamn animals?” Another woman told Engelhart she believes she won’t leave her nursing home alive, “or at least not alive in the way that she is used to being.” In an account as heartbreaking as it is important, Engelhart’s reporting underscores the need for a gentler, more social nursing home experience — one that is safe, without being devoid of the things that make us human. Genevieve Glass

The Atlantic: How Dementia Locks People Inside Their Pain, Feb. 11

Marion Renault writes for The Atlantic about the suffering of those living with dementia when they feel pain, but don’t understand it. Weaving in the story of her grandmother, who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and fractured a vertebra last year, Renault reflects on how the medical community has long struggled to measure and relieve pain in people with dementia. But, she notes that one of the basic forms of care — the presence of another human being — can help ease their suffering. “On the worst of days, all I could do for her was lie down in bed beside her as she whimpered,” Renault writes of her grandmother. “More than once, we fell asleep holding hands. ‘Je t’aime,’ she’d repeat, finally unburdened. ‘J’ai pas peur’: ‘I love you. I’m not afraid.’” –Nicholas Chan

New York Times Modern Love: The Day His Journal Went Blank, Feb. 5

In the New York Times’ Modern Love column, Annabelle Allen writes a riveting story where she gains a new perspective on who her father was before he developed Alzheimer’s. She finds it all through his journal, filled with life but long forgotten by the very man who wrote it. “When I read my father’s entries, I feel less lost,” she writes. “I not only recognize the person my father used to be, but I recognize myself.” Queenie Lacaben

Medical Press, Researchers Identify the Biochemical Process Responsible for Producing Toxic Tau, Feb. 22

This write-up of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences highlights the process behind the formation of tau oligomers, finding that tau forms its toxic tangles, present in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, only in the presence of a specific RNA-binding protein called TIA1. The researchers have discovered that it’s the interaction with this protein, which is genetically associated with Alzheimer’s, that makes tau so lethal for neurons. This study opens new potential avenues for further research as it shows how TIA1 drives Alzheimer’s tau pathology in the brain. –Vipul Kamani

Honorable Mentions from Nicholas, Queenie and Alex:

Feb. 24: In the Wall Street Journal, writer John Jurgensen’s essay “How Movies like ‘The Father’ Helped Me Understand My Mother’s Alzheimer’s” explores how, after avoiding dementia dramas, he had a change of heart after watching recent films that explore Alzheimer’s from new perspectives. “My mother was the reason I initially resisted ‘The Father,'” he writes. “The new film stars Anthony Hopkins as a man struggling against the effects of dementia. That synopsis was enough to trip my avoidance instinct, despite the time that has passed since my mom’s death, on Feb. 18, 2017, at age 76 from Alzheimer’s disease. I had learned all I wanted to know about dementia from her.”

Feb. 20: On, Chris Bolt reports a story “New York Advocates for Alzheimer’s Sufferers Want them at Top of COVID Vaccination & Testing List,” on the importance of not only vaccinating individuals living with Alzheimer’s, but also increasing COVID-19 testing among the group. In it, Dr. Allison Reiss of NYU Long Island School of Medicine agrees with other dementia experts that the symptoms of COVID-19 can be harder to spot in people with Alzheimer’s. “You may not be aware that the beloved person in your home is having struggles with breathing,” she said. “One of the key things is, of course, to get people vaccinated before they get COVID and spread COVID, and certainly if someone has COVID, we want to know it so we can isolate them. We don’t want days and days to go by and we don’t realize it.”  

Feb. 17: In a post on Renee Harmon’s website, “Acknowledge Your (Ambiguous) Grief,” she emphasizes the hard-to-define grief we feel towards our loved ones diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Although they are physically here, we mourn their loss of self, and become susceptible to the toxic cycle of grief. She also points out that the sixth stage — finding meaning — requires us to mend our inner turmoils by acknowledging, honoring, and loving them. “When you can remember a loved one who has died with more love than sadness, you are on this path,” she writes. “More than acceptance, you are at a place when you can honor their lives. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture; everyone’s approach to finding meaning will be uniquely theirs.”

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One thought on “What Biden Should Do for Alzheimer’s & Other Favorite February Reads

  1. Well my wife’s got dementia and as far as I’m concerned they are not doing much for these people billions are going into research and they are not coming up with any thing my opinion it’s the pharmaceutical companies are making all the money for their shareholders if they can get a vaccine for the virus that fast and get to the moon and Mars why can’t they find some sort of help for all these people it beggars believe?????

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