I was incredibly excited to see both Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne win Academy Awards for their roles in Still Alice and The Theory of Everything. Both of these films raised tremendous awareness around two diseases we don't often talk about. I was touched by both films having the message of hope, which is what both doctors and patients need to remember every day.
In Still Alice, Moore portrays a woman at age 50, diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. This film brings such a strong message and bringing Alzheimer's to the surface. There are 5 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer's. But this particular film is shining a light on early-onset Alzheimer's Disease which affects men and women in their 40s and 50s and in total about 200,000 people in the U.S. This is a totally different disease.
The Dark Side of Alzheimer's Disease
Early-onset Alzheimer's Disease decreases judgment, sentences are fumbled, things in general that are familiar to you become unfamiliar. It's not just about memory loss, it's really what we call neuro-spacial issues (how we think) that start to affect people's entire lives. Patients may become irritable and angry with emotional outbursts.
It's important to note that cognitive issues range from mild to moderate to severe. We can control the progression of the disease. There are basic actions the patient can take. Stress and lack of sleep play a huge role in the progression of memory loss. Studies have shown that low Vitamin D and B12 levels can cause signs of Alzheimer's Disease. Diet changes and adding more Omega 3 Fatty Acids may slow down the process.
Doctors have better imaging [MRI] now to diagnose and catch this disease early which can help with slowing down the process. Other cognitive and neurological function tests are available.
The Theory of Everything
Redmayne's performance as famed physicist Stephen Hawking was awe-inspiring. The Theory of Everything is is truly about the power of life, love and hope. Without these notions as doctors and patients, we would never go on. Without them, there is no treatment that could help us.
What is ALS?
Amyotrophic [A=no Myo=muscle Trophic=no nutrition] lateral sclerosis [ALS] is a rare disease that stops the nutrition from going to the muscles. It causes muscle spasms, accurately portrayed in this movie, which over time patients die from respiratory failure. Two-five years is the typical survival period in which doctors give patients with ALS. In Stephen Hawking's case, he has gone on and continues to with this disease, which is remarkable.
As of right now, there is no cure. There is only one medication that potentially adds 3 more months to a patients life. In 1869 ALS was discovered by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, but it wasn't until 1939 that famed New York Yankees baseball player, Lou Gehrig, brought national and international attention to the disease.
With the ALS Challenge, the amount of donations has pushed researchers further to find a cure. Researchers at Duke may have found a gene [TBK1] that could lead to key findings and eventually a cure.
There are many experimental medications approved outside of the U.S. It's worth opening up the conversation further beyond the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.