Written by Kelli Dockery, BC/BT senior at UMSL and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program
As part of the Summer Research Program – Aging & Neurological Diseases Track, I watched The Alzheimer’s Project: The Memory Loss Tapes. It documents the lives of several Alzheimer’s patients from as early as two months after their diagnosis to more than a decade. I will be performing data analysis this summer, so I was eager to learn about people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and their caregivers.
Until watching this documentary, I did not realize how much symptom progression varied from person to person. Just three months after her diagnosis, Fannie had trouble recognizing street signs and putting her car in reverse. She also did not realize it was unsafe for her to drive, so her doctor revoked her license. In comparison, Joe blogged about living with AD for years and could still complete many household tasks. However, he could no longer work in the tech industry or take his granddaughter to the park without getting lost.
When talking about the impact of AD, family and caregivers are often ignored. Currently, there are roughly 11 million unpaid caretakers of people with AD in the United States. In the documentary, the case that impacted me the most was Josephine, who needed full-time care. Josephine’s daughter moved from the city to her mother’s isolated farmhouse, where she struggled to find work and had no nearby friends or family to rely on.
Despite decades of research, Alzheimer’s is still not well understood. Given its impact on patients and their caregivers, this research is especially important. My job is to analyze a list of genes and identify biological processes that are related to Alzheimer’s. This information could help researchers uncover the cause and develop new treatments.
It can be easy to forget the significance of this research, especially when working with spreadsheets instead of people. That is why this program is so important; it has shown me the personal and clinical experiences of Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. I hope this experience will help me see the big picture and never lose sight of the impact of my work.