By Arya Bari
Amid the bustling hospital, John Adams sits in his reclining chair. He was once a great painter, a revolutionist. A woman walks into the room, her worn shoes scuffling against the floor. Sunlight glints off her emerald eyes. He has seen this woman before, although he cannot place where.
Claire Adams glances towards her husband, meeting his eyes. The shell of the man she loves reflects back at her. And for the fourth time, on their marriage anniversary, she grieves for the best friend and companion she has lost, despite his presence before her.
Ebbing at the defined edges of his brain and ultimately his matrimony, Alzheimer’s disease infiltrated John’s life upon diagnosis. Once cherished memories began to escape him, simple tasks became unmanageable, and lethal side effects followed in this wake.
This man, now finishing his third hospital visit this week, is among the thousands of Canadians living with some form of dementia. In 2020, over 597, 000 Canadians were registered to be living with dementia. This number is projected to reach 1.7 million by 2050.
Beginning with mild memory loss, Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. It is the most prevalent type of dementia. As it advances, the disease can be tragic, with complications from the gradual loss of brain function, ultimately leading to death.
Alzheimer’s specifically affects parts of the brain that dictate thought, memory, language, reasoning, and social behaviour; it destroys neurons and their connections in the entorhinal cortex, hippocampus, and further in its development, the cerebral cortex.
Although the average person with the disease lives between three and eleven years, some survive more than 20 years, as their brains progressively deteriorate and impair their ability to function; begging the question of what really measures and constitutes quality of life.
Unless they live in a retirement home, the majority of people with Alzheimer’s disease are cared for by family members or friends. They witness their loved ones morph from forgetful to unrecognizable or unable to identify their caregivers, as stages of the disease progress.
Many find it difficult to care for and love people with Alzheimer’s as they cannot retain or recall thoughts and events, leading them to be regularly agitated, delusional, and act out of physical or cognitive character.
This leaves us to wonder whether lived experiences define us, scrutinizing a parallel thought to the famous Gestalt theory: are we truly more than the sum of our memories?
Despite the fatality of the disease, until recently, little development has been made towards treatment, besides mitigation of side effects and reducing the speed of brain deterioration.
“The brain is the most complex entity of the universe, and arguably Alzheimer’s is the most complex disease in the brain. So the fact that we’ve failed and failed is not surprising,” says Dr. Donald Weaver, a senior scientist at the Krembil Brain Institute, speaking to the slow development.
The path of seeking cures for Alzheimer's can be traced back to the early 1900s, and the development of the amyloid theory, a hypothesis stating that “flaws in the process of governing production, accumulation or disposal of beta-amyloid, naturally occurring protein that forms plaques between neurons and disrupts cell function, are the primary causes of cell malfunction.”
However, in spite of the grandeur of this discovery a multitude of failed drug and vaccine trials applying the theory have stirred doubts amongst the scientific community regarding its validity. All until Biogen, a medical manufacturing company developed a drug called Lecanemab.
Slowing the rate of cognitive decline by 27% over 18 months among early-stage Alzheimer patients. A groundbreaking drug, not only can it help treat patients with the disease, but it is proof that amyloid was a causal factor in the most common form of dementia.
Although there are concerns with the individual cost of the drug, and whether the prolonging of optimal brain function is a solution worth its price, advancement is all we can count on towards combating Alzheimer’s.
As Claire puts down the pamphlet marketing Lecanemab, a floral fragrance in the air, draws her toward the hallway. After making sure that John is content with his cup of red jello, she walks out of the room. A vase filled with flowers sits perched on the hallway console table. Ironically, an arrangement of Forget-Me-Nots.