Alzheimer’s disease isn’t just about losing your keys. It’s about forgetting what your keys are for. This mind-robbing disease affects more than three million people in the United States and currently has no cure. Researchers are now looking at the brain’s blood vessels to see if they hold the key to solving the Alzheimer’s puzzle.
For the past six years, Linda Bogner-Norton has watched her loving husband slip away. She says, “He cannot feed himself. He has no intelligible speech, although occasionally he does call my name. He does say ‘Lin.'”
Dick Norton was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 62, but Linda thinks it happened sooner. “Dick was able to compensate so much for the early confusion Alzheimer’s was causing him,” she says.
Mike Mullan, M.D., Ph.D., a biological psychiatrist at the Roskamp Institute at the University of South Florida is studying the role damaged vessels in the brain might play in Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Mullan explains, “There’s a small protein called amyloid that gets deposited in the brains of all cases of folks that suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.”
The amyloid protein blocks blood vessels, starving the brain of oxygen and nutrients. Dr. Mullan’s research suggests this destructive process begins years before symptoms appear. “So if we block those mechanisms, if we switch them off, we can stop the effect,” he says.
If proven, the same drugs used to treat hypertension and heart disease could some day control Alzheimer’s.
The research can’t help Linda and Dick, but she hopes it will help others. For her, the most important thing is caring for the man she fell in love with 15 years ago. She says, “I fall asleep stroking his arm every night. I wake up right next to him everyday. It’s very different. My loving and our sharing is different, but it’s still there.”
Within a year, Dr. Mullan’s team will begin clinical trials on a drug used for heart disease to see if it can have a preventive effect on Alzheimer’s.