Grey’s Anatomy: How Alzheimer’s Disease Reminds Us to Be Aware

Alzheimer's -plaques - recent studies

Grey’s Anatomy Reminds Us 

“It’s awful being a grown-up. But the carousel never stops turning. You can’t get off.” – Ellis Grey

Ellis Grey (a character on Grey’s Anatomy ) died a world-famous surgeon who took her ‘game’ to the highest level possible. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) claimed her life and the medical community, her children, and love interests were deeply affected. Her daughter, Meredith Grey, followed in her footsteps to become a “Surgical God,” but also primarily took on the challenges of supporting a mother through this mentally and physically demanding disease.

What is Alzheimer’s Disease?

Sometimes you might hear a child fumble, “old-timer’s disease” when trying to pronounce “Alzheimer’s disease.” They aren’t entirely wrong! Individuals as young as their mid-60s could start experiencing symptoms of this irreversible, progressive brain disorder. 

So, what is actually happening? To put it simply, cells in the brain progressively die.

The brain contains microglia, little immune cells which roam around and help keep the neurons in the brain healthy. At some point, there is a change in the brain status in which the microalga are no longer keeping up with the” plaque attack” in the brain.

These plaques are formed by proteins. The two particular types of proteins that are a topic of focus in recent studies are (1) beta-amyloid (BAY-tuh AM-uh-loyd) which build up in the spaces between the nerve cells. The second protein is TAO, this protein forms tangles along the neurons. The combination of both proteins forming or accumulating in the brain, create toxic and damaging results to the neurons.  When things start to get worse up in the noggin’, cognitive and memory functions begin to diminish and daily activities become a challenge (if not impossible). A person may be diagnosed with dementia in the early stages which may prolong the exact diagnosis and treatment for Alzheimer’s.  There is not a single cause noted as of yet and the effects and how to treat them are still relatively new in the medical frontier.

What are some signs of Alzheimer’s Disease? 

Ellis’s condition was a secret to the world until she was brought into Seattle Grace Hospital with cramping pain and diarrhea. Aggressive and confused, Ellis shocked the hospital staff as she believed that George, Meredith’s friend, and colleague was her ex-husband, Thatcher. These are classic symptoms of early-onset of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Queen of secrets or victim of Alzheimer’s disease

The classic symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is misplacing or forgetting even essential things. Check this out! Ellis Grey never told Meredith about her two sisters, Alexandra “Lexie” Grey and Margaret “Maggie” Pierce, who become significant characters throughout the seasons. It makes me wonder if she was the queen of secrets or fell too soon as a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. We will never know. 

Confusion of familiar people, places, or things

“That man makes me purr like a kitten,” as Ellis shares a little too much information with her daughter in Season. Those steamy details about Ellis’s active sex life were shared due to confusion as she is often mistaken Meredith for an old college friend. 

Challenges to complete familiar tasks

Routine surgery, like a cholecystectomy, became impossible to perform once Ellis became diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s common for individuals with this disease to forget how to do familiar tasks like driving to the store or how to play their favorite video games.

Troubles with eye-sight

For many, vision problems are a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, which may lead to difficulty with reading or keeping balance. They may underestimate the distance from the bottom stair to the floor, cannot drive, or incorrectly determine a color of a photo.

Change in mood

Is Ellis Grey a bad woman? This flawed woman often spoke out of turn, gave terrible “life” advice, and frequently made her daughter feel pathetic. Can we blame Alzheimer’s disease? Once a (rude) social butterfly, ready to dominate the world, Ellis quickly became depressed, isolate, jealous, and sometimes irate when asked to step out of her comfort zone – classic symptoms! 

Decreased or poor judgment

As the brain declines in function, a loved ones may stop caring for themselves. They forget to bathe, forget to take medications or even eat. They may give money away to a person on the phone or give away family items to a part-time caretaker. If the family member insists on living alone or is unable to live with extended family a good consideration might be an assisted living home with a memory care unit.

Sadly, sometimes the family may need to intervene when either grandpa or grandma becomes abusive to their partner and physical safety becomes a concern. A person with advanced Alzheimer’s is often unaware and unable to control their actions.

Assisted living homes with memory care units have trained staff, therapists and nurses who are understanding and a bit more experienced with the daily needs of an individual with Alzheimer’s.  The Senior Guide magazine for your area offers a good list of places available.  ALWAYS visit the retirement communities beforehand. Look up reviews and ask for complete tours to the facility. Talk with the residents before making a choice.  And visit weekly if possible

What are the most common risk factors of AD?

  • Age
  • Family history
  • Genetics (heredity)
  • Head injury
  • Exposure to toxins

FACT – Genetic Risk Factor

Individuals who carry Apolipoprotein E (ApoE) are at significant risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. ApoE works by being a primary carrier of cholesterol that supports the transportation of lipids and contributes to injury repair in the brain. 

Do you know someone who is experiencing these signs in your life? 

Good news! Thanks to researchers like Dr. Dale Bredesen, MD., new technology, and discoveries have surfaced. Dr. Bredesen is an internationally recognized expert in the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases, such as AD. He believes impart that future care and treatment is to provide Alzheimer patients with a program, rather than say go home and take a pill.  He’s working on creative ways to reverse the cognitive decline in AD patients.

It is impossible for anyone to understand what another person is going thru in their brain. Many times, the slow gradual decline goes undetected or is explained away as aging. The work of William Utermohlen, an artist who suffered from Alzheimer’s documented these mental changes in beautiful paintings. Take a look, I was profoundly affected by the self-portraits he produced over a 30-year span.

Brain health is strongly connected to Heart health

A neurologist, Dr. Rong Zhang from Utah Southwestern Brain Institute, led a trial to see if exercise would reduce neuroimaging biomarkers of AD. He wanted to know if these biomarkers – brain atrophy and amyloid build-up – would prevent or improve cognitive issues in older adults. In the trial, he compared cognitive function and brain size in 2 groups of sedentary older adults who had memory issues.  One group began regular exercise habits and one did not. In this new research study, Dr. Rong Zhang says, “we wanted to know if exercise prevents or improves neurocognitive function in older adults who have memory problems such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Turns out, there are multiple positive effects of aerobic exercise:

  • Increased cardiovascular blood flow to the brain
  • Decreased harmful effects of amyloid plaque build-up
  • Decreased cholesterol
  • Decreased blood pressure

Aerobic exercise, or “cardio exercise” means that the heart is pumping oxygenated blood to working muscles (the brain is a type of muscle). The exercise stimulates the heart, increases deep breathing, improves balance, and promotes an all-around healthier system. Types of aerobic exercise include swimming, walking, bocce ball, water aerobics and even chasing your grandchildren or tossing a ball to your pets in the house. Hey, all those things count! 

REMINDER: Drink plenty of water during any type of exercise! Dehydration affects the ability of the brain to function and can be the mystery behind dizziness when standing up.

REMINDER: Get enough Sleep – A chronic lack of sleep may aid in the build-up of the Plaques

Earlier the Better

The earlier, the better it comes when catching signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Though Alzheimer’s is not a curable disease, the doctor will be able to come up with a treatment plan to slow the illness down and give you back some precious time. Whether you or a family member are currently dealing with AD, our hearts go out to you. It’s a hard road, but you are loved and appreciated for sticking it through with your loved one.

If you are not going through AD or are new to it, please check out these helpful tips I’ve gathered from a close friend who is suffering: 

  • Talk about it with someone you trust if you’ve noticed memory changes in yourself or a loved one
  • Visit a doctor who will provide a medical evaluation to determine what the cause of these new symptoms maybe
  • Know your facts about Biogen Alzheimer’s medication
  • Educate yourself with as much knowledge as possible
  • Find a support group to help cope with these diseases with others going through a similar experience. | |
  • Know 10 signs of Alzheimer’s disease, this memory loss disease to help describe what’s happening to doc 
  • Be understanding and realistic during this challenging time as your loved one may start to change into a person you do not recognize
  • New communication methods are needed, as the concentration will become a frustrating challenge. Remember to have patience! It might take your loved one a little longer to explain or to get their point across. 
  • Most importantly stay active for better memory
  • Get support from Alzconnect: you’ll be” alz connected” after reading up on how to be a part of an online community.
  • #ENDALZ is the Alzheimer’s Association hashtag to use online and on social media
  •  Understand that Early detection matters, read up!

Last but not Least