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Panel Discussion Kicks Off Alzheimer's Month

Uncertain phrases such as "studies have shown," "it is thought," "seems to be" and "there is speculation" were frequently used when treatments for Alzheimer's disease were mentioned at the Alzheimer's Discussion Panel at Greenspring Village, on Nov. 7.

The phrases were carefully chosen by medical experts Dr. Marion A. Parrott, M.P.H.; Dr. David Alway, neurologist at the Neurology and Headache Treatment Center; and Blair Blunda, executive director at Alzheimer's Family Day Center in Falls Church.

"There's so much we don't know," Parrott said.

Attendees at the discussion were interested in symptoms and solutions. Although the symptoms were more certain than the solutions, the panel chose the terms carefully when talking about the disease.

"These things have been shown to be successful. They are not cures by any means," Parrott said.

Alway had a slide show with a lot of technical medical terminology, but his slide on treatments was clear. There are only two accepted treatments, vitamin E and selegiline, a derivative of phenethylamine, a life enrichment drug also used to treat Parkinsons Disease. There were five controversial treatments: estrogen, selective estrogen receptor modules, NSAIDs, (non steroidal anti-inflamatory drugs), vaccines against beta-amyloid, and cholesterol-lowering medicines.

Molecular biology is another area experts are looking at, according to Alway.

"This ultimately could become a way of curing this," he said.

Symptoms of the disease, such as dementia, confusion and memory loss, were just a few of the signs panelists said might be experienced by an Alzheimer's patient. In the past, such symptoms could have been written off as signs of old age, but since they have been pinpointed to a particular disease, a cure is possible. Parrott thinks it’s not too far off. She might not have had the same feeling five years ago, she said.

"I feel real hope now," she said.

THE GUEST of honor was playwright Trish Vradenburg, whose play "Surviving Grace" is about her own mother, who was diagnosed with the disease in 1987 and died from it in 1991. Vradenburg is a resident of Washington, D.C., and former sitcom writer for television shows "Designing Women," "Kate and Allie" and "Family Ties."

"My play is about hope and possibilities, a woman who didn't give up. I totally believe that people still remember love," she said.

The play was produced at the Kennedy Center in the summer of 2001 and was performed off-Broadway in 2002.

Anthony Sudler, CEO of the Alzheimer's Association of the National Capital Area, attended the discussion as well.

"Her story is one of 4 million going on now in this country," he said.

Greenspring Village contributed a $2,000 check to the association toward research. Renaissance Gardens at Greenspring, the assisted living and skilled nursing wing of the community, sponsored the panel discussion.

The Alzheimer's Association is concentrating on two aspects of the disease, research and caregivers. Sudler said a nursing home for an Alzheimer's patient is about $40,000 a year, so "70 percent of all Alzheimer's patients are cared for in the homes," he said.

"It's not just the care, but taking over the whole responsibility for this person," he said.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed November as National Alzheimer's Month, before he showed any symptoms himself. Sudler described his own experience with the disease.

"I have not yet seen a person survive Alzheimer's," he said.