When it comes to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, according to Dr. Lawrence S. Honig, there is no drug yet that will bring someone back to normal. But, he said, “We would be very delighted if we can come up with a drug that slows down the disease, and that might happen within the next five years or so.”
Honig offered that glimmer of hope in Millburn on Sept. 14, at the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Community Conference. The event was the first to be hosted jointly by the Jewish Family Service of Central NJ and Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, both partner agencies of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. It was funded by the federation and the Healthcare Foundation of NJ.
Honig shared the podium with Cynthia Epstein, a clinical investigator with New York University’s Center for Cognitive Neurology. The caregiver support program she helped design is being offered free of charge by both JFS agencies. The keynote talks were followed by discussions led by the professional staff leading those JFS programs.
About 120 people attended, some of them family members who have nursed loved ones with dementia for years, and others anticipating that situation.
“My mother is still doing all right, but she’s beginning to have problems, and she knows it,” one woman said. “That’s the hardest part.” Another said that both her parents had died from Alzheimer’s, and though one’s genes are not regarded as a major factor, she said, “I’m pretty sure I’ll get it, too.”
Honig, a professor of neurology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, works in its Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain. He provided the audience with an overview, comparing and contrasting the symptoms, methods of diagnosis, and research into treatment of Alzheimer’s and related disorders, including Lewy Body dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, ALS-dementia, and progressive aphasia.
Alzheimer’s can start decades before symptoms become evident, Honig said. Researchers are working on early and later diagnosis, causes, symptom reduction, and immunization. He was frank about the limited success of current medications.
He warned against believing the remedies touted on the Internet, stating, “Memory improvement drugs are of no benefit at all.”
He encouraged people in the audience to participate in research trials. “There are test sites in New York City and in New Jersey,” he said. (To learn more about taking part in the Starshine Study, call Honig or his associate Evelyn Dominguez at 212-305-2371.)
Epstein, a licensed social worker and one of the leaders of the NYU Caregiver Intervention Program, called her presentation “Families and Professionals Working Together.”
“Drugs are not going to be available soon enough to obviate the need for caregivers,” she said. In its 20 years, the NYU program has shown that support for family caregivers helps delay institutionalization of those with such diseases by an average of 18 months, while improving the health and quality of life both for them and those taking care of them.
The key is engaging at least one other family members or friend — to provide emotional support and respite help. That can sometimes be a huge hurdle. “Acknowledging vulnerability can be very scary,” Epstein said. “For some people, it’s easier to keep complaining than to ask for help.”
For more information on the caregiver programs offered locally, call JFS Central at 908-352-8375 or JFS MetroWest NJ at 973-765-9050.