Julianne Moore won an Oscar last night for her heartbreaking portrayal of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice. At Brain Matters, we hope the movie will raise awareness about Alzheimer’s research. In that spirit, here is an editorial by Alzheimer’s researcher Dr. Julie Harris, courtesy of the Huffington Post:
“While the story is fiction, Moore’s gripping portrayal of a person going through the stages of Alzheimer’s disease is an all-too-real story faced every day by more than 5 million Americans and their caregivers.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. It kills more people annually than prostate and breast cancer combined. It’s also the nation’s most expensive disease, costing more than $200 billion in 2014. By the year 2050, that cost is expected to rise to more than $1 trillion annually.
“Scientists have spent decades trying to better understand Alzheimer’s disease to develop prevention strategies and drug therapies. Currently, there are only five medications approved by the FDA to treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and none of them affects the progression of the disease…
“Years before people develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s, toxic changes begin to happen in the brain. Brain cells, called neurons, begin losing their ability to function and communicate properly. In time, they die. As the disease progresses, damage spreads to the area of the brain that forms memories, called the hippocampus, which leads to the characteristic memory loss we see in Alzheimer’s patients.
“As Alzheimer’s research moves forward, we also need a better understanding of what it is like to live with the disease. Unlike many other diseases, we rarely hear directly from Alzheimer’s patients themselves. The stigma of having a memory disorder is hard to overcome, and patients are often forced to abandon their independence and give up their own voice very early on. Movies like Still Alice that portray the loss experienced by Alzheimer’s patients and their families are important because they give an emotional face to a devastating disease. Hopefully, they also motivate scientists to take new approaches to Alzheimer’s research and find new treatments.
“I hope that someday we can give people living with Alzheimer’s the treatment options they deserve. Until then, Julianne Moore’s performance is a Hollywood reminder of why that research is so important. She certainly has my vote on Oscar night.”
Are you or someone you love diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? Help us in the fight for better treatments; join one of our clinical research studies on Alzheimer’s today.