HBO Studies the Faces and Future of Alzheimer’s Disease

May 10, 2009
by Lindsey Chapman
Through its new program “The Alzheimer’s Project,” HBO is placing fresh attention on Alzheimer’s disease and the long, often trying, work caregivers perform to support their loved ones suffering from the condition.

The Alzheimer’s Project

“Today, Alzheimer’s is the second most-feared illness in America, following cancer, and may affect as many as five million Americans.”

HBO’s program focuses on the impact of this disease on Americans today, and on the future of the condition. As the baby boomers age, it’s possible that Alzheimer’s disease could affect more than 11 million people by 2040 and bring heavy economic consequences as well.

“The Alzheimer’s Project” acknowledges that although there is presently no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, “there is now genuine reason to be optimistic about the future.”

For Jackie Harrell, who had a role in HBO’s production with her husband, the movie represented a chance to help others. “It was for other people that have to go through what I have gone through. I was lost when it happened to me. If I can help someone else along the way it would make me feel good,” Harrell told Racine, Wis. paper The Journal Times.
Harrell’s husband, an Alzheimer’s patient, died before the program’s air date.

Of Alzheimer’s disease, Harrell said, “You learn that it is a part of life. It is a process. I had to learn that I had to be strong to get through it. It was not an easy thing to do, but it was harder not to be there to see that he was getting good care.”

Alzheimer’s Treatment and Prevention

There is currently no known way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, but researchers have some ideas as to how people can reduce their risk.

Getting enough physical activity and mental exercise can be helpful factors in prevention, as can eating fruits and vegetables and foods like fish. WebMD notes that researchers are continuing to search for a successful Alzheimer’s vaccination.

Meanwhile, a recent study by the University of California at Davis has shown that memory, music and emotions all activate the same region of the brain, which may have implications for Alzheimer’s patients. Even though these individuals have problems with their memory, they still respond to music.

After mapping the brain activity of a group of individuals while they listened to music, Petr Janata, associate professor of psychology at UC Davis, noted activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the forehead.

Janata found that as Alzheimer’s progresses, this area remains in tact longer, while most other areas of the brain have deteriorated. When a song elicits a memory, Janata explained, “[The] music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head.”

For Caregivers

Alzheimer’s disease can be incredibly stressful for the patient, yet caregivers aren’t exempt from much of that anxiety. Support groups can be beneficial for those who either need to vent about their situation or who just want to be part of a group of people experiencing similar circumstances.

To find a support group, seek help from a health care provider, search the phonebook or talk to a spiritual leader. The Internet can also lead you to numerous online communities, chat rooms and message boards.

The Future

Dr. Paul Aisen, a featured researcher in “The Alzheimer’s Project,” says the future of Alzheimer’s treatment appears promising. “I think the likelihood is that in the foreseeable future, we will make very major progress in controlling the disease. The science has advanced to the point where we have highly promising targets for drug development, excellent candidate drugs in clinical trials. One or more of these current programs will be successful.”

Most Recent Features