Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that touches nearly everyone in some way. With over 5.5 million Americans diagnosed, there’s a strong chance that you will come in contact with the disease in some way. And as a nurse, that chance becomes a near certainty.
Watching as someone suffers through Alzheimer’s is incredibly difficult, and can also be difficult to fully grasp. This video (released at the end of 2014) manages to capture some of that confusion and sense of lost time that comes with the disease. Authors Virginia Bell and David Troxel attempt to explain the feeling by asking their readers to imagine that moment from school when the teacher calls on you in front of the class to answer a question, but you don’t have the answer
“How did we feel?” they ask. “We remember the feeling of our collar tightening, voice faltering, palms sweating, and face blushing.” Then they call to our attention that “The person with Alzheimer’s disease is in a giant classroom every day, one in which he or she never has the exact answer.”
It’s a frightening concept, and an even more frightening future. But while there currently isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s, advances are being made in the battle against it. And the advance made this year is one of the biggest yet.
Earlier this year, researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto successfully used focused ultrasound to “safely and non-invasively breach the blood-brain barrier (BBB) temporarily in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in a clinical trial”.
The blood-brain barrier exists in our brains to protect the smallest capillaries from allowing anything alien into our brain’s bloodstream. It’s a very important protective system, but one that also prevents potentially life-saving medicines from entering the brain. For those with diseases like Alzheimer’s, this poses a major challenge, but the Sunnybrook trials may have found a way around it.
“By opening up the BBB using low frequency ultrasound, we’ve taken a small but important step that opens up a whole new vista of possibilities,” says Dr Sandra Black, a co-investigator in the trial. “The hope is there may be a way to eventually open up multiple little windows, in a gentle way, in order to get large molecules like drugs and even stem cells into the brain. But we need to take it one step at a time.”
Now that researchers have successfully bypassed the brain-blood barrier, the next step is to use the technology to administer Alzheimer’s treatments while the BBB windows are open. This will mean a second trial, of course, but researchers are optimistic, calling it “a small but critical step that could lead to a game-changing approach to treating one of the most challenging and least understood brain diseases.”
In the meantime, though, there are many resources available for nurses (and family members and friends) who work closely with Alzheimer’s patients. The Alzheimer’s association, for example, has this wonderful article on how to best communicate with a patient during the varying stages of the disease. Lisa Genova gives an informative and captivating talk on what causes (and how to help prevent) the disease, a video available here. And HelpGuide.org provides a helpful list of caregiver burnout to watch out for—you can’t take care of others, they point out, until you’ve made sure you’ve taken care of yourself.
For more on beginning a career in health care, contact Unitek College today to talk to someone about our many nursing and medical assistant programs.