Memory loss can be aggravated by many lifestyle factors. But physicians are now finding that medical treatments requiring anesthesia may also have a sudden, negative impact on Alzheimer’s patients — even in early stages of the disease.
In her recent article for InSight, a Memory Center publication, writer Lisa Bain describes the case of Doris Reimann, who woke up after hip surgery unable to speak clearly. Doris never walked again and failed to regain her mental faculties. Similar accounts of post-op cognitive decline prompted Dr. Steve Arnold to look at the connection between surgery, anesthesia, and Alzheimer’s. Other Penn researchers have done the same.
Dr. Roderic Echkenhoff has observed the results of studies done with lab animals. Anesthesia has been shown to produce “lesions in the brains of mice that mimic those found in brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.” But surgery itself is a catalyst for the brain’s inflammatory response. It is difficult to determine which of the two factors carry the greatest risk.
While there is abundant anecdotal information from families and clinicians, Dr. Arnold explains that there is not enough data to suggest that surgery or anesthesia should always be avoided. After all, surgery is usually recommended when people are suffering pain that can’t be managed in other ways. Nevertheless, he urges families to talk to their “primary care physician, surgeon, and anesthesiologist about their concerns before surgery with anesthesia” is carried out. This kind of conversation can’t wait until after the operation!
Across the country, large medical centers have been conducting drug trials for new medicines that may help halt Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia. These drugs raise the hopes of many families who want to see their loved ones cured. But study participation can be full of challenges that scare potential patients away. This week I read an interesting article about a family that made a group choice to overcome all challenges and get involved.
One of the biggest hurdles to enrolling in a drug trial is the fact that research centers doing cutting edge work are typically located in big cities. For families living in distant towns or suburbs, just transporting the patient to the study site can be a huge undertaking. Caregivers need to manage time off from work, make the trip to the medical facility, and provide support for the person in the research study — who may or may not benefit from the experience.
The Babcock family, featured in this month’s issue of inSight from the Penn Memory Center, felt there were many reasons to solve these problems so their father could travel from Scranton to Philadelphia for the “Bapi study”. Bapineuzumab — is an antibody that showed some potential for clearing beta amyloid protein from the brain. Scientists hypothesize that this protein forms the plaques that promote Alzheimer’s symptoms.
The article explains how the 125 mile trips became a group activity that united their family to support their dad. Dean Babcock, son of the study participant, felt that the hope a family gets from being involved in such as study can “help manage the process.” While he said that he was initially motivated by the “selfish” desire to “cure his father”, he eventually realized that the study was “still beneficial” because it “allowed experts to rule out Bapi and move on to the next thing.”
The research side of the story ended by documenting that “bapi” showed “no positive improvements on cognitive testing and functional scales of research participants with a gene believed to be connected with Alzheimer’s”. But members of the Babcock family did not feel they had wasted their time. They see how information from the study may help researchers as they continue their search for effective medications. And Dean Babcock maintains the hope that younger family members may have better treatment options if it turns out they need them one day.