Alzheimer's blog

Alzheimer's community gathers to share hope, love

By Angela Lunde March 20, 2012

The 2012 Alzheimer's Association and Mayo Clinic "Meeting of the Minds" Conference is behind us. Possibly the most incredible part of the day was the 80 degree temperature — mid-March in Minnesota!

Actually, the weather was unusual, but what was really magical was the gathering of more than 1,200 family and professional caregivers, world renowned researchers, spiritual leaders, aging services providers, persons living with mild cognitive impairment or early dementia, U.S. senators and a professional comedian. The energy of support, hope, love, and community this event created is indescribable.

Special thanks to all of those who attended the conference and humbly shared their stories: Cathy and Dave, Ron and Sandy, Ron and Debbie, Tom and Julie and so many others. And thanks to Ron, Annette, Mary, Carol, Alan and many others who found me to say hello and offer your kind words about this blog and the newsletter.

My heartfelt admiration goes to Dick and Carol, a couple living with early stage Alzheimer's who opened the conference by inviting us to share their story. Dick, a retired psychotherapist, was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (now Alzheimer's) three years ago at the age of 62. Here is a piece of what he shared:

"The shock of my diagnosis was hard for us, but it was easier than the denial we'd been living with. With the diagnosis we learned how impermanent our well-ordered lives were ... but we are living to tell about it and able to move forward ... becoming stronger, more loving, more patient, more spiritual ... I have learned to be honest with myself about my changing self and my changing life. It frees me and it frees my family and friends if all of us can be open and honest."

Dr. Kristine Yaffe, who directs the memory disorders program at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and is a professor at the University of California-San Francisco, provided an overview on Alzheimer's prevention. A few things look promising in reducing risk or delaying dementia symptoms. These include exercising the mind and the body and good sleep hygiene.

Dr. Yaffe pointed out that many diseases of the body play a role in cognitive aging, so when we take good care of our body we are taking care of our mind. And with new ways to imagine the brain, we have now opened the door for the discovery of drugs that can alter the course of the disease and one day prevent Alzheimer's.

Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle, author of "Ten Thousand Joys & Ten Thousand Sorrows", beautifully spoke of taking care of her late husband with Alzheimer's. She described caring for him as her "meditation practice," encompassing the training and teachings of patience, generosity, compassion, loving kindness, effort and equanimity. "We all go through floods of adversity in our life but the last chapter of life is our most heroic — all of our greatness is called for ... Alzheimer's is the full catastrophe ... we wake up to the preciousness of life and find grace at one level when another is diminishing," Olivia said.

A Living Well Workshop for families with early stage dementia, as well as an abundance of breakout sessions and a book signing rounded out the afternoon.

Conference participants were reminded that earlier this year President Obama signed the National Alzheimer's Project Act (NAPA) into law. Dr. Ronald Petersen, chairman of the NAPA advisory council and director of Mayo Clinic's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, took the stage at the end of the day to offer comments about this landmark legislation — destined to ensure strategic planning and coordination of the fight against Alzheimer's across the entire nation.

"We recognize that the Alzheimer's crisis is no longer emerging — but has arrived," Petersen said. That was followed by U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken enthusiastically ensuring us of their full attention to fight this disease and support funding for research.

Lastly, Susan Voss, comedian and author, made us laugh-a perfect ending.

"Without the human community one single human being cannot survive."
— The Dalai Lama

March 20, 2012