Arizona PBS documentary ‘Curing Alzheimer’s’ explores the globally-felt disease

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A new documentary on Arizona PBS, “Curing Alzheimer’s,” explains the memory-thieving disease, its history, how it can be detected before symptoms occur and what’s being done to treat and prevent it.

Alzheimer’s robs people of their memory, judgement, reasoning, recognition abilities and performance skills, explains Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

It affects over 100 million individuals and costs billions in healthcare. One in four people carry the gene for the disease. It can be detected by looking at a patient’s genetic background or through biological measurements that show signs of developing the disease in the future.

“We can detect the changes starting about 25 years before people develop symptoms,” Reiman says. “Using these measurements and using other subtle memory and thinking changes, we’ve begun to develop ways to evaluate prevention therapies as frequently as every two years.”

Institute director Dr. Pierre Tariot says there are experimental therapies being tried, but these are a tremendous wager. Only about one percent of them show signs of success. However, the only way to know which techniques will succeed is through continued research – which depends in part on the people who are willing to participate in ongoing studies.

If you would like to help end Alzheimer’s and participate in one of these studies, you can sign up at endalznow.org.

***NAT POP**ALL RIGHT, BUDDY. BILL, HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY?

REPORTER: BILL MCCULLOUGH HAS GOOD DAY AND BAD DAYS.

SOT: 100%?

BILL MCCULLOUGH: 99.

REPORTER: IT IS THAT WAY WHEN YOU HAVE ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE. ALZHEIMER'S IS THE MOST COMMON FORM OF MEMORY AND THINKING PROBLEM IN OLDER PEOPLE.

SOT: IT ROBS PEOPLE OF REASONING, THEIR ABILITY TO RECOGNIZE LOVED ONE'S FACES AND PERFORM TASKS. THE DOCTOR IS LEADING THE FORCE IN THE FIGHT AGAINST THE DISEASE. HE AND HIS TEAM ARE LOOKING FOR WAYS TO NOT JUST TREAT THE DISEASE, BUT PREVENT IT.

REPORTER: WE SEE A REGION OF THE BRAIN WITH SYMPTOMS.

SOT: THEY'LL DO IT BY 2025. THE KEY, HE BELIEVES, IS TREATING THE DISEASE EARLY ON.

REPORTER: WE HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SHOW WE CAN DETECT AND TRACK THE CHANGES 25 YEARS BEFORE PEOPLE DEVELOP THE SYMPTOMS. USING THESE MEMORY AND THINKING CHANGES, WE HAVE BEGUN TO EVALUATE THERAPY FREQUENTLY AS EVERY TWO YEARS IN PEOPLE BASED ON THEIR GENETIC BACKGROUND OR BIOLOGICAL MEASUREMENT OF ALZHEIMER'S ARE AT INCREASED RISK. THE INITIATIVE STUDIES MEDICATION IN UNITHERAPY ATTACKING ALZHEIMER'S GENETICALLY. ONE IN FOUR OF US ARE CARRIERS OF AN ALZHEIMER'S GENE AND STUDYING AMILOYDS. IN THE BRAIN IMAGES, THE LIGHT BLUE AREAS CONTAIN AMILOYDS. YOU CAN SEE THE AREA OF THE BRAIN AFFECTED, GROWING. BY PREVENTING THEM FROM GROWING, IT'S POSSIBLE TO STOP ALZHEIMER'S IN ITS TRACKS.

SOT: IF WE HAD A TREATMENT THAT COULD BE STARTED BEFORE THE RAVAGING OF THE BRAIN, IT MAY GIVE THEM THE BEST CHANCE TO WORK. IMAGINE TREATING SOMEONE AFTER HEART FAILURE OPPOSED TO BEFORE.

SOT: WE MET IN DECEMBER. WE WERE ENGAGED IN JANUARY. WE WERE MARRIED IN FEBRUARY.

REPORTER: MARIANNE MCCULLOUGH REMEMBERS THE WHIRLWIND ROMANCE THAT BROUGHT HER AND BILL TOGETHER NEARLY 50 YEARS AGO. A MATH TEACHER, SHE MET BILL IN SAN DIEGO. THEY HAVE THREE SONS. BILL LOVED HIS WORK IN FINANCE. HE WAS AN AVID RUNNER AND DOTED ON MARIANNE.

REPORTER: BILL WAS REALLY, ALMOST THE FIRST PERSON TO OBSERVE THAT SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT. HE HAD SURGERY ON HIS HIP AND WOKE UP AND SAID, WHEN I FIRST SAW HIM, HE SAID MY BRAIN ISN'T WORKING RIGHT. MARIANNE WAS CONCERNED BUT THE DOCTOR SAID WAS TO BLAME FOR SOME OF THE MEMORY LOSS. IT ONLY GOT WORST.

REPORTER: BILL, WHO HAS ALWAYS BEEN SHARP -- WE WEREN'T COMMUNICATING. SOMETHING THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SIMPLE, HE COULDN'T DO THAT.

SOT: THAT WAS EIGHT YEARS AGO. THOUGH BILL'S MEMORY IS GETTING WORSE, MARIANNE STILL SEES GLIMPSES OF THE MAN SHE MARRIED.


SOT: AT NIGHT I KICK OFF THE BLANKETS ALL THE TIME. I'M A ROUGH SLEEPER. BILL, WHEN HE KNOWS THAT I HAVE DONE THAT, HE WILL GET UP, WALK AROUND TO MY SIDE OF THE BED AND PUT THE COVERS ON ME. I LOVE THAT.

SOT: ALZHEIMER'S ISN'T JUST ROBBING BILL OF HIS LIFE, AS HIS PRIMARY CARE GIVER, MARIANNE ADMITS SHE STRUGGLES TOO.

REPORTER: I'M NOT DOING AS GOOD OF A JOB AS HE DESERVES. I ROLL MY EYES SOMETIMES. I SIGH. I DO THINGS THAT ARE NOT THE PERSON I WANT TO BE. GROWING UP, FAMILY, PARTICULARLY THE OLDER WOMEN IN HIS, WERE A STRONG PRESENCE IN HIS AND LED HIM TO HIS WORK WITH ALZHEIMER'S.

REPORTER: A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, A GERMAN PSYCHIATRIST DESCRIBED A PATIENT OF HIS, A WOMAN IN HIS 50S THAT HAD DEVELOPED PROGRESSIVE LOSS OF MEMORY AND OTHER THINKING ABILITY AND BELIEFS THAT SHE WOULD BE KILLED AND TURNED INTO SAUSAGE, TAKEN AWAY IN A CARRIAGE OVERNIGHT, AND HE FOLLOWED HER UNTIL HER DEATH AND DESCRIBED THE DEVASTATING ILLNESS AND DESCRIBED CHANGES IN THE BRAIN HE HAD SEEN IN THE MICROSCOPE AFTER HE DIED THAT ARE TO THIS DAY CONSIDERED THE HALLMARK OF THE DISEASE THAT CARRIES HIS NAME.


SOT: THE DOCTOR SPENDS THE DAY SEEING PATIENTS THAT WON'T GET BETTER DESPITE HIS BEST EFFORTS. HE'S FRUSTRATED HOW LITTLE WE TALK ABOUT ALZHEIMER'S.


SOT: A GLOBAL DISEASE THAT AFFECTS 100,000,000 PEOPLE AND COSTS BILLIONS IN HEALTHCARE. HE SAYS EXPERIMENTAL THERAPIES ARE A TREADS WAGER. 99% OF THEM HAVE FAILED, BUT HE SAYS THE ONLY WAY TO SUCCEED IS IF PEOPLE STEP UP AND VOLUNTEER FOR ONGOING STUDIES, LIKE THOSE AT BAI. WE NEED YOU. WE NEED YOUR HELP. WE NEED YOU TO UNDERSTAND THAT WE HAVE SHOTS ON GOAL HERE TO TRY TO PREVENT AND TREAT ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE. WE NEED VOLUNTEERS. PLEASE, JOIN US. BE PART OF THIS REVOLUTION.



TED SIMONS: "CURING ALZHEIMER'S" WHICH FEATURES DOCTOR REIMAN FROM THE BANNER ALZHEIMER'S INSTITUTE, AIRS TONIGHT AT 9:00 ON ARIZONA PBS. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN JOINING THE FIGHT AGAINST ALZHEIMER'S, THE DOCTORS ENCOURAGE YOU TO CHECK OUT THE ALZHEIMER'S PREVENTION REGISTRY AT "END ALZ NOW DOT ORG," THERE YOU CAN PARTICIPATE IN A NUMBER OF STUDIES, INCLUDING GENETIC TESTING TO SEE IF YOU HAVE THE ALZHEIMER GENE. THAT'S IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

Dr. Eric Reiman: Executive Director, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute
Dr. Pierre Tariot: Director, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute
Maryann McCullough: Husband is Battling Alzheimer’s

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