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Archive for the 'Grey’s Anatomy' Category

Alzheimer’s Patient “Wakes Up”

Those of you who read this blog know my mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. We began to notice problems almost 10 years ago, and my father, sisters and I have suffered along side her.

Last February, I watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, when Ellis Grey, the mother of the main character, “woke up” from her Alzheimer’s Disease for a day. The episode was disconcerting, but hopeful, but frustrating, and raised the question of whether that was really possible.

At the time I could find no references online that spoke to this possibility. I blogged about it. Read the post here.

A few days ago, I heard from Loretta, whose mother had the same experience as Ellis Grey did. Her mother was lucid for hours and hours, talked to all their family members, couldn’t believe she had been “out” for years, got all caught up on family happenings…. The family all witnessed the phenomenon — and they video taped it.

I was flabbergasted by Loretta’s email! I believe every word of it. And Loretta and I have exchanged several more emails since then. She even gave me permission to share it with all of you.

And of course, dozens of questions popped into my head…. One of the biggest was — does this happen more frequently than we realize? Are there others who have had this experience, but when they ask the professionals about it, they are dismissed?

And more importantly — can we learn anything about this disease from those who do “wake up” even if it’s just for a short period of time? Does anyone track it? Have others video taped it?

Loretta tells me that the caregivers at her mother’s assisted living center have witnessed it before with other patients. To those who care for Alzheimer’s patients, this doesn’t seem at all unusual.

But why are there no studies? Why isn’t it part of the literature?

Yes — I do know many of the questions we loved ones must face. If I could have my mother back for just a day, knowing she would later retreat to her Alzheimer’s fog, would I want her to be lucid again? Would it be heartbreaking? Or joyful? What would we talk about? Would she be sad or angry? At the end, would we be sad or angry — or simply thrilled that we enjoyed some “bonus” time with her that had been unexpected?

But all of those questions, in my opinion, pale in comparison to what we could learn — for future sufferers. Does this only occur a few years into the disease? Can we figure out what triggers the awakening? Can we draw conclusions about the biology of it? Does it give us some clues as to where the memories have gone, if they have gone anywhere? And of course, dozens more.

What if we began comparing notes? What if we started tracking the phenomenon?

There are so many possibilities for learning about the disease if we can just corral the experiences!

So I have built a page on this blog where those of you readers who have had experiences, or have questions, can begin to share your thoughts. If it outgrows this blog, then perhaps I’ll start another one.

Link to the Alzheimer’s Reports page here — which also includes Loretta’s email to me.

If you know of other resources about this particular phenomenon, please let me know. (Not just Alzheimer’s resources in general — it’s a huge topic, with excellent resources, and one more won’t contribute to the discussion.) You’ll find contact information at Alzheimer’s Reports.

Talk about patient advocacy!! The strength and purpose of individuals who care — let’s see what we can do!

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Med Students and Grey’s Anatomy

Our radio show taping this week included a conversation with two medical students. It was so refreshing and interesting to hear their perspectives on patient-doctor communications, and a variety of other topics. Something one of them said triggered a memory of a recent Grey’s Anatomy episode (no — not the one with the ferry accident — I’m still sitting on edge to find out if Meredith will survive!)

I asked if any of their experiences parallel what they see on TV. “No! No way!” was the reaction. And they couldn’t fill me in fast enough on what is “real” to them vs what is fantasy. Included was the fact that — in their experience — surgical students wouldn’t be participating to the extent Meredith, George, Izzie and Christina do. Further, neither one has ever experienced nearly so much drama — their lives aren’t a soap opera.

Well, of course not!

But, if you read the news, you get the impression that many of these TV medical shows are based on reality. The producers (and advertisers, I guess) want us to think that their operating rooms, procedures, and other approaches are “real”. OK — so I buy that they are giving it a shot. In the “ripped from the headlines” fashion, they say they spin the show from real-life stories, giving them a new layer of interest, based on a level of authenticity.

But I, for one, say — thank heavens they AREN’T real! If one of my loved ones or I need to stay in the hospital, need surgery, a trip to the ER or any of those dances we watch on TV, I do not want to think my doctor’s attention can be waylayed by the soap opera-ish problems we see each week.

Yes — I realize that many of them are. Doctors are human, afterall. But when it comes time to do my job, I’m giving it 100% of my attention. And I’d like to think that when a doctor does his or her job, I’m getting 110% of theirs.

The quality of my work doesn’t take place on a platform of life and death. But a doctor’s work addresses life and death every day. That leaves no room for a soap opera.

I’ll take my dose of drama on the TV, thank-you-very-much.

Alzheimer’s and Grey’s Anatomy

When I wrote the other day about last week’s Grey’s Anatomy episode that addressed chemo and toxicity from herbal remedies, I seem to have started something. So many of you were interested in that question!

Not surprisingly, many are looking for more information, too, about Meredith Grey’s mother “waking up” from Alzheimer’s Disease. And a few people wrote to ask if it’s possible.

This is a tough one for me, because my mother (and therefore my whole family) is a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. We first noticed Mom’s problems almost 10 years ago. In early 2005 we moved her to a memory center in Sarasota, Florida. Dad, who has health challenges of his own, spends time with her everyday. She still recognizes him, and when we visited her in late December, she recognized my sisters and me, although she didn’t know our names. It just absolutely breaks my heart.

And that’s actually the reason I didn’t/couldn’t/avoided writing about it. In the story line, Meredith’s mother actually “comes to”. She remembers everything with great clarity prior to the past five years, including all the emotions and attitudes that went with her life ‘before.” Her personality recovered along with her memories. And in the case of Ellis Grey, that’s what was so off-putting.

I looked it up — the concept of recovery from Alzheimer’s. There is no such thing. Period. At least not today. There is misdiagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease — a couple of possibilities that either cause dementia, or that dementia is a symptom of. And there is the typical Alzheimer’s trait that memories of the past can come forth (for example, Mom has always loved to sing, and remembers the words to songs that nobody has heard since the ’40s and ’50s!)

I should mention that for the past 8 months or so, Mom has had improvement in her symptoms. Whereas prior to that, she would sleep through her days and her chin was always dropped to her chest, for these past several months she has actually been more vital, with a smile on her face and the ability to enjoy her environment. Even the doctor and nurse practitioner can’t explain it. But — it’s not the same as regaining her personality — not by a long shot.

Nowhere in my research could I find anything that says an Alzheimer’s patient can redevelop the clarity that Ellis Grey did on the TV show. Not if that patient truly has Alzheimer’s disease. And we have to remember that the only way Alzheimer’s can be positively diagnosed is after the person has died. A pathologist can look at a dissected brain and determine it was Alzheimer’s. Until then, we have only symptoms to base a diagnosis on.

So, for those of us with a loved one who suffers from this horrid “long good-bye” — showcasing the concept of recovery, even if it’s short-lived, is like holding out a carrot we have no way of grasping. It’s just one more frustration.

To anyone who reads this blog and is hoping I would have some magic silver bullet to offer — I wish I could. Believe me, the moment there is such an animal as a cure for Alzheimer’s, my family will know it. We camp on every word that’s published and follow all the Alzheimer’s news. We donate. We participate in the “walks” to raise money.

And mostly we feel like we grasp at straws.

I love you, Mom.

Herbals and Chemo – on Grey’s Anatomy

I’m a BIG fan of Grey’s Anatomy (not exactly a select group of fans – just a few bazillion of us!).

Thursday’s episode included a story about a woman who was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. They took a sample of her blood, then when she began having problems, whisked her off to surgery. During surgery, those in the room began passing out. Turns out her blood had become toxic from taking herbal supplements which, when combined with the chemicals from the chemo treatment created a deadly combination — for her, and anyone else in the room.

As someone who advises patients on practical issues, I have long touted the need for making sure all your doctors know everything you take. Patients tell me they are afraid of telling their doctors they take herbal supplements or natural remedies, even vitamins or aspirin anything else available without a prescription. That can be so dangerous to our health!! And as I’ve said before — your doctor isn’t there to judge you. S/he is there to assess everything and make his/her best recommendations to you, taking it all into account.

So back to Grey’s Anatomy — is it possible that an herbal supplement would become toxic when mixed with chemo drugs? I checked in on the American Cancer Society’s website and learned this: there are supplements that can interfere with chemo, and there are some that can actually help it. Link to the article I found. I didn’t find anything that could become toxic — but….

The problem is, of course, there isn’t much research out there on supplements — because — who will pay for that research? Unfortunately, research isn’t usually done unless someone (read: pharma companies) can make some money from it eventually by selling whatever they develop. If it’s a natural supplement, it can be grown by anyone — and big pharma can’t make money from it. Therefore….? We just don’t know.

Bottom line – be smart about herbal supplements and natural remedies. Discuss them with your medical care providers and make sure they will be helpful — not harmful.

And if your provider won’t discuss them with you? Find one who will.

So now, shall we discuss how Callie and George eloped in Vegas? :-)