(Lakewood) - Life changed dramatically for Bob and Luanne Becker two years ago when doctors told them that Bob had Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease at the age of 58. Luanne felt like she was punched in the stomach. "This is not only my husband, who I love dearly, this is also my business partner." she said, "I could not figure out what to do next."
Alzheimer's Disease is most prevalent in those 65 year of age and older. This gives it the perception of being a disease of the elderly. Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease can affect people much younger, like Bob.
Bob was a long time Cleveland media personality, most recently hosting The Ohio Lottery on television and hosting Saturday mornings on WTAM 1100. He first begin to misplace items; forgetting when he placed keys or glasses. Luanne says they were finding them in "strange places, like the freezer, or [Bob would] start calling them strange names." She says that looking back, they were more than just senior moments.
Alzheimer's Disease affects 1 in 85 people. Over 5 millions Americans and 210,000 Ohioans have the disease. As Baby Boomers continue to age the number of diagnoses will grow, likely reaching 16 million Americans by 2050.
Depression and anxiety followed the diagnosis. Luanne says help was found in support groups, friends and within themselves. Being forced to slow down is seen as a blessing by the Beckers. Slowing down to smell the roses is advice commonly given but Luanne embraces the fact that her and Bob can actually do it.
Bob Becker at his last Ohio Lottery drawing
Alzheimer's Disease is not predominately a male disease. The Alzheimer's Association reports that a woman has a 1 in 6 risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease by the age of 65. That number for a man: 1 in 11. They also report that women are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease as they are breast cancer.
There are plenty of statistics about Alzheimer's Disease. The most significant may be that Alzheimer's is the only top ten leading causing of death in the US that is claiming more lives each year.
Dr. Brian Appleby, Associate Professor of Neurology at University Hospitals says the exact cause has been elusive, saying, "It has been a complicated question because ... there is probably more than one risk factor." He cites difficulty in finding a cause because by the time a patient is diagnosed they've probably had the disease for a decade.
Doctors are now focusing on a protein that seems to accumulate in aging brains. An excess of the protein may cause a coating to form on nerve endings in the brain, rendering them unable to transmit signals.
Many hope for a cure but Dr. Alan Lerner, Director of the Brain Health and Memory Center at University Hospitals thinks prevention is a more realistic goal. "Given the fact that the population is getting older [it] is probably a better strategy" says Dr. Lerner. He acknowledges that it leaves those suffering from Alzheimer's Disease now behind. "Damage has been done," says Dr. Lerner "and it's [been] proved very hard to undo that damage."
Research is being done at University Hospitals to develop better prevention strategies. They are currently recruiting individuals who are at risk but not yet symptomatic. Information is available at a4study.org.
Photo Credits: Luanne Becker, The Ohio Lottery
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