Research paper topic: Early onset Alzheimer’s disease

When you’re looking for a research paper topic related to medical issues, early onset Alzheimer’s disease may not be the first idea that comes to mind. But the new film, Still Alice, may cause you to reconsider. Based on the novel by Lisa Genova, Still Alice stars Julianne Moore in the title role of Alice Howland.

The hit film Still Alice shows the impacts of early onset Alzheimer's disease. (Credit: HitFix)

The hit film Still Alice shows the impacts of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. (Credit: HitFix)

The film shows how Alice’s diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s impacted both her and her family. With stunning performances from the cast, which includes Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart, Still Alice carries a real emotional punch.

Alzheimer’s disease

According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer’s disease is “an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.”

It is typically a disease of the aged with the first symptoms appearing after age 65. Experts estimate that as many as 5 million Americans who are over age 65 may have Alzheimer’s disease.

Early signs of Alzheimer’s disease are problems remembering things or finding the right word when speaking. As the disease progresses, symptoms include getting lost, repeating questions and personality changes.

Changes in the brain as a result of Alzheimer’s disease eventually lead to problems recognizing family and friends, impulsive behavior and even hallucinations.

In its most severe form, someone with Alzheimer’s disease becomes completely dependent on others for basic needs and care. Symptoms include weight loss, loss of bladder and bowel control, seizures and difficulty swallowing.

Early Onset Alzheimer’s

The Mayo Clinic staff explained what happens when symptoms exhibit themselves in younger adults in the article, “Early-onset Alzheimer’s: When symptoms begin before age 65.”

According to the authors, about 5 percent of those who develop Alzheimer’s disease develop symptoms before age 65. While it’s more common for early symptoms to develop with people in their 50s, there have been cases when the disease manifested itself between the ages of 30 and 40.

Researchers are not sure why some people get the disease at such a young age. “For most, however, early-onset Alzheimer’s runs in the family. They’re likely to have a parent or grandparent who also developed Alzheimer’s at a younger age,” the authors explained.

Caregiver’s guide

While suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is a difficult road, so is being a caregiver. As our population ages, no doubt more people will find themselves in a caregiver situation. For insight into the challenge of being a caregiver, check out the book, The Reluctant Caregivers: Learning to Care for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s, by Anne Hendershott at Questia.com.

Hendershott wrote the book from her own experience as the caregiver to her mother-in-law, Katharine. The book began with a description of how the gradual progression of the disease is mirrored in the slow evolution of a family relationship that changes from child to parent.

The story began when Katharine, Hendershott’s mother-in-law, lost electrical power after failing to pay her bills. Intervention from the family helped Katharine get back on track, but disagreements arose about the level of care that was needed.

“What I did not realize then was that we were also setting up the dysfunctional coping style that would later make our caregiving so much more difficult during our first year with Katharine. Despite all of my years of research and teaching about the sociological implications of the aging of our population, I failed to recognize that we too were beginning a course of caregiving that would later threaten the functioning of our entire family,” Hendershott said.

Still Alice

After viewing the film Still Alice at the Toronto film festival, Catherine Shoard mused that there were so many sniffles from the audience that they were still mopping up the floor. In her September 12, 2014, article for TheGuardian.com, “Still Alice – review: an effortlessly excellent film about a difficult subject,” Shoard offered a well-rounded assessment of the film.

The story centers on Alice Howland, a 50-year-old linguistics professor whose happy life is impacted by a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. At times the film shows daily life through Alice’s eyes, allowing the audience to experience the painful descent into oblivion that the disease produces.

“You gain awful insight into a fate whose horrors its sufferer, for a while at least as she attempts to stymie the disease with word games and bright positivity, appreciates,” Shoard said.

You can view the trailer for Still Alice at SonyClassics.com.

You can learn more about issues in health and medicine at Questia.

Do you know anyone who has felt the impact of early onset Alzheimer’s disease in their family? Tell us about it in the comments.

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