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Medicine: Lifting the Curse of Alzheimer's Diesease

When Alejandra was a 16-year-old teenager back in 2007, she had the aspirations of any girl her age. She attended an escuela secundaria in Medellín, one of Colombia's largest cities. School work was interspersed with as many hours as she could squeeze in hanging out with friends at favorite haunts throughout the city.

Then her mother, Yolanda, started to lose her memory. The quiet but conscientious woman would say hello to a visitor and, moments later, would repeat the same greeting again – then again. By her mid-40s, Yolanda had developed early-onset Alzheimer's disease. For Alejandra, it meant that her adolescence had come to an end. Like it or not, she had to take on the chief responsibility of full-time care for her increasingly helpless mother.

Alejandra, now 24, has since moved to the nearby municipality of Copacabana, where she shares a concrete block apartment on an upper floor with her aunt and two uncles, nine-year-old daughter, Luna, and 17-year-old sister, Carolina, who dropped out of high school to help. Her mother can no longer talk nor walk; she spends much of her time bent over in a chair. One of the uncles, age 51, also has dementia.

Every day the girls cook for the two Alzheimer's patients. They feed their mother and Uncle Albeiro through tubes. They wash them by hand and carry them to bed. They repeat the same routine day after day, with no break for birthdays or holidays. "I had hopes," Alejandra says. "I had plans. I wanted to study. I wanted to be a nurse. So many plans that I haven't been able to follow through with.... I already feel like I'm becoming old." ...

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More to Explore:

Phoenix: Vision of Shared Prevention Trials Lures Pharma to Table, Part 1. Gabrielle Strobel in Alzforum. Published online February 25, 2010

Reiman, E. M. et al. Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative: A Plan to Accelerate the Evaluation of Presymptomatic Treatments. In: Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 26, S. 321 - 329, 2011

Lalli, M. A. et al. Origin of the PSEN1 E280A Mutation Causing Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease. In: Alzheimer's & Dementia 10, S. S277 - S283, 2014

From Our Archives:

Stix, G.: Alzheimer's: Forestalling the Darkness with New Approaches. In: Scientific American, June 2010.