Friday, August 19, 2011

Planet of the Apes: Alzheimer’s Cure Gone Wild

Every now and then, I just have to go see a movie. A few weeks ago I saw The Smurfs with my grandchildren and daughter-in-law. I can relate to that show because I used to watch The Smurfs on TV with my kids when they were little. Jim and I even used the “Not far now” description when we were traveling, although sometimes our destination was still far, far away.

I really wanted to see something that wasn’t animated and thought Rise of the Planet of the Apes looked interesting. My memories of the Planet of the Apes original movie were fuzzy, but I remembered the story was intriguing and that the apes were more human than humans.

It didn’t take long to realize Alzheimer’s played a key role in the Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Will, a researcher, discovered a cure for Alzheimer’s and the apes it was tested on became highly intelligent. Like too many miracle drugs, the fictional ALZ112 had deadly side effects. Apes became highly intelligent and human died from a virus.

The science fiction movie reflects how much our fears today have changed since the 60s when the original Planet of the Apes aired. In the new story, human holocaust is caused by a pandemic rather than a nuclear war. We are all afraid of getting a terrible disease without a cure.

Oh, wait. Isn’t that what Alzheimer’s is today? More than five million Americans are living with a disease that has no cure or effective treatment.

Although the apes were the focus of the movie, Will’s dad was a key part too. His dad was the compelling reason Will sought a cure for Alzheimer’s.

I imagine some people who would never go to see an “Alzheimer’s” movie might have seen their first glimpse of some of the challenges caregiver’s face. Will’s loving exasperation with his dad is  part of daily life for caregivers as they do what they can to care for loved ones.

The one thing that happened in this movie that hasn’t happened yet in real life was the interlude when the drug temporarily “cured” Alzheimer’s. What would it be like to wake up one morning and find your loved one had returned to normal? That would indeed be a day for celebration!

Will we ever see that day? Dedicated scientists have found miracle cures for other diseases. I carry a scar on my arm from a smallpox immunization. My children don’t have the scar because by the time they were old enough, it was no longer necessary. Smallpox was virtually unheard of during their childhood. Polio was another disease I remember being warned about when I was young.

Both of these diseases were challenging, but cures were found. That is what we need for Alzheimer’s—and the sooner the better. Too many people have journeyed down a road with a dead end. The warning signs are there, but with no way to go except forward, the destination is the same for everyone.

I understand Will’s desperation to stop the disease from taking his dad. I’ve felt that desperation, and I’ve seen it in the eyes of other family members when they hear the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s. Finding a cure seems to be moving in slow motion while we fast forward to the scary parts, and all we really want is a happier ending than we’ve been given. With all the medical advances of the past twenty years, or even the past five years, why can’t Alzheimer’s be cured?

It’s like the key to unlock the mystery of Alzheimer’s is buried in a mountain of keys that all look alike. It seems an impossible task to find the correct key and insert it into the lock. But when that perfect key is found, the lock will spring open.

The cure for Alzheimer’s isn’t just possible in a science fiction movie. The right key is there, it’s just waiting to be found.

Copyright © August 2011 L. S. Fisher
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