Alzheimer's blog

Hope is in the air at Alzheimer's conference

By Angela Lunde March 6, 2014

The annual Meeting of the Minds dementia conference was last weekend in St. Paul.

After 8 years, the conference organized by the Minnesota-North Dakota Alzheimer's Association in partnership with Mayo Clinic has become one of the largest and most esteemed family and professional conferences in the country.

Many who attended departed with new friends, information, resources, and perhaps most importantly, ways to reclaim hope.

We all share in the hope and mission of the Alzheimer's Association that one day we'll be a world without Alzheimer's. Brilliant scientists around the world are working toward a promising cure and ways to prevent Alzheimer's and related disorders.

Dr. David Knopman from Mayo Clinic announced a new prevention study, called A4 — Anti-amyloid treatment in asymptomatic Alzheimer's disease.

This secondary prevention trial, soon to launch, will test an amyloid-clearing drug in volunteers whose brain images show abnormal levels of this protein, but who don't have any symptoms or a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. This gives us hope.

Dr. Bruce Miller from the University of California-San Francisco, the conference keynote, said it's a particularly exciting time in frontotemporal degeneration research. Recent advances in understanding the molecular basis of this disease provide the foundation for development of targeted therapies like never before.

But there was something equally as powerful as the hope for a better future that made the conference so magical — it was the hope for a better today.

Terri, a conference attendee and support partner for her husband with cognitive impairment, said, "I felt hope in listening to others tell their stories and knowing I am not alone".

This kind of hope dissolves the illusion that we are separate and is the great elixir that comes with a sense of belonging and community.

Dr. Henry Emmons, a psychiatrist and author of "The Chemistry of Joy", shared how it's possible to hold joy and gratitude at the same time we're going through profoundly difficult times.

I loved the quote attributed to Margaret Mitchell: "Every problem has 2 handles. You can grab it by the handle of fear or the handle of hope."

Sandy Halperin, a husband, father of two and doctor, was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer's at 60. He lives fearlessly. His powerful, heartfelt message to the attendees was one of remaining active and advocating for real action today, not tomorrow.

Ann Bastings, an educator, scholar and artist led a session titled: "Finding Each other through Creative Engagement".

She spoke about suspending what's perceived as wrong, by creating moments filled with what's possible. Every person living with dementia is capable of growth, learning, sharing and a whole lot of creativity, she said.

From storytelling to songwriting, people even in late dementia can make meaningful connections with those around them. This is the kind of hope that moves us past the stigma to a place where it's possible to see the whole person, engaged in a life worth living.

Jennifer, a daughter supporting her father with cognitive impairment, said, "Hope is knowing there are resources available nearby that will help caregivers ... hope is when my dad is having a good day socializing … exercising, eating healthy — in other words, living well!"

Hope is not accepting the common view that Alzheimer's or a related condition is only bad news. Yes, it's a terrible disease, but it's not the end of life.

An incredibly lovely and intelligent woman named Martha said, "Don’t think of me as a victim dying of Alzheimer's disease, think of me as a person living with a condition that affects some, but not all, of my memories."

All inspiration emanates from hope. What gives you hope?

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Mar. 06, 2014