We Can Cure Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimers

Since November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness and Family Caregivers Month, I thought I would take the opportunity to thank the more than fifteen million Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers in the United States for their hard work. You are to be admired, and applauded.

More than forty million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s disease. Included in that number is my father, and perhaps your own parent, grandparent, spouse, or best friend. Because I often feel helpless when I visit my father in the nursing home as I listen to him stutter my name, and watch his hand shake as he tries to lift a scoopful of ice cream to his mouth or turn the page of the newspaper, I must reach out to you. I reach out with the ice-cold truth about this insidious disease that pisses me the fuck off, and makes me want to punch the protein out of its plaques and tangles. (I’m not a violent person at all, really. But watching a loved one slowly fade into the dark more than sucks.)

Now that I’ve purged from my gut how I really feel, I’d like to share with you what Dr. Samuel Cohen, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Misfolding Diseases in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, has to say in a video about Alzheimer’s:

By 2050, Alzheimer’s will affect one hundred fifty million people.

If you plan to live into your golden years, your chance of developing Alzheimer’s will approach one in two.

Alzheimer’s is the most expensive disease in the United States, costing two hundred billion dollars each year.

Out of the top ten causes of death worldwide, Alzheimer’s is the only one that cannot be prevented, cured, or slowed down.

The US government spends ten times more on cancer research than on Alzheimer’s.

People with Alzheimer’s can’t always speak out for themselves.

Alzheimer’s is always fatal.

Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of the aging process.

If you have a brain, you are at risk for Alzheimer’s.

We now know that the plaques and tangles clogging the Alzheimer’s brain consist of protein molecules.

We can cure Alzheimer’s.

To hear Dr. Cohen’s TED Talk about Alzheimer’s and the new class of drugs being tested to stop the disease, please click here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taking The Car Keys Away From My Father

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I’m over-the-moon excited to announce that my essay, “Reaching for the Keys,” has been published in Saranac Review  It’s about my emotional struggle to take the car keys away from my father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2012. I spent a year and a half working on it – typing, deleting, reflecting, pacing, tearing up drafts and starting over, pulling my hair out, waking up in the night to scratch down notes. Why all the fretting? Though any piece of creative work takes time to craft into a piece of salient art, writing this essay challenged me more than most other essays I have written. How so? While I know I made the right choice by taking the keys away from my father, the act of writing the essay brought me uncomfortably close to particular emotions and a long list of complexities that speak to the human condition (at it’s core, what this essay is really about): fear, anger, remorse, guilt, truth, loyalty, mortality, illness, aging, independence. I suppose that’s partly what creative writing should do – push us a little too close to the edge of the metaphorical embankment.

There’s also an ironic element to the piece, but I don’t want to give too much away here (apologies for the teaser). To quench your curiosity, relieve your hunger, I encourage you to read the essay. The Journal is available for purchase at: Saranac Review.

The Saranac Review was born in 2004 out of four writers’ vision to open a space for the celebration of many voices including those from Canada. Attempting to act as a source of connection, the journal publishes the work of emerging and established writers from both countries. As our mission states, “The Saranac Review is committed to dissolving boundaries of all kinds, seeking to publish a diverse array of emerging and established writers from Canada and the United States. The Saranac Review aims to be a textual clearing in which a space is opened for cross-pollination between American and Canadian writers. In that way, we aim to be a textual river reflecting diverse voices, a literal “cluster of stars,” an illumination of the Iroquois roots of our namesake, the word, Saranac. We believe in a vision of shared governance, of connection, and in the power of art.

Saranac Review

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A Tribute to Oliver Sacks

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The following tribute to Oliver Sacks, an eminent neurologist, prolific writer, and quintessential humanist who died from cancer at 82 on August 30,  is dedicated to Christy Lyn Bailey, who died from Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) in June 2015. A good friend to many people around the world, she lived each day with passion and curiosity – she traveled to nineteen different countries, completed marathons and triathlons, left her corporate job and joined the Peace Corps. Christy also pursued her passion for writing and teaching: she earned an MFA, and taught creative writing to university students, and to homeless children. And she wrote a memoir, which tells of her journey toward acceptance after losing her hair to alopecia areata

Christy was a first-rate storyteller, and shared her IBC experience online with countless compassionate readers. Each story she shared revealed her bravery, sensitivity, love, and gratitude. As her mother says, “She dreamed big.”  Christy worked hard to survive, to say all she needed to say, to write what she needed to write, but mostly she gave to others – right up until she fell into a peaceful and ever-lasting sleep. 


Do you feel your work is done? Do you have more to do, to give, to write, to say? Oliver Sacks leaves us to ponder such existential inquiries in his essay, “Sabbath.”

It’s evident he had more to say, even as his death drew nigh: Fourteen days before he took his last breath, the New York Times published “Sabbath.” In the essay, Sacks speaks out about his withdrawal from the Jewish rituals he grew up with, his indifference to his parents’ beliefs, and his addiction to methamphetamines. In the context of his sexuality, he speaks to how the writing of his newly released memoir, On the Move, allowed him to finally unearth what he had kept buried away for far too long:  “I had been able, for the first time in my life, to make a full and frank declaration of my sexuality, facing the world openly, with no more guilty secrets locked up inside me.”

Sacks was also the kind of man who thought deeply about others. His natural curiosity and interest in the world around him, and likely his sense of isolation from his family who questioned his sexual orientation, drove him to venture far from his family in England. In 1960, as a new physician, he left for Los Angeles, where he found what he called a “sort of connection.” Still, Sacks yearned for some deeper meaning – lacking that, an addiction to methamphetamines lured him in. But he recovered, slowly, and found his way: He worked as a physician at a chronic care hospital in the Bronx, where his fascination with his patients mobilized him to tell their stories, unfathomable stories he felt it was his mission to share. That’s when he became a storyteller, a storyteller of the human condition. Those stories span the pages of The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, in which Sacks shows the struggles of his patients living with various neurological disorders. At the same time, he eloquently describes the resilience of the human spirit, making each and every individual he writes about real life human beings on the page. Sacks’ curiosity and interest in others is steadfast and palpable in the other dozen books he has written such as Hallucinations, Awakenings, and The Mind’s Eye.

It’s Sacks’ open, empathetic, and introspective storytelling that prompts us to ask of ourselves, “What moves us? What must we share with others? In his essay, “Altered States,” though Sacks suggests that drugs is a “shortcut” to “transcendence,” he’s also clear about one thing: that understanding can be found through other means. As Sacks reminds us in the essay, the point is “To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves … to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.”

That’s exactly what Oliver Sacks and Christy Bailey did – they rose above their “immediate surroundings.” They left us with the and abundance of hope.

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