Jess Dancer, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus of Audiology, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Phyllis Watkins, Executive Director, Alzheimer's Arkansas Programs and Services
Oscar-winning actor Charlton Heston said yesterday that he is suffering from what appears to be Alzheimer's disease, a slow-progressing and fatal brain disorder that gradually robs the victim of the ability to remember and think.
"For now I'm not changing anything," said Mr. Heston, 77, in a taped statement played for the press at the Beverly Hills Hotel, not far from his home. "I'll insist on work when I can; the doctors will insist on rest when I must. If you see a little less spring in my step, if your name fails to leap to my lips, you'll know why. And if I tell you a funny story for the second time, please laugh anyway."
-Washington Times, Saturday, August 10, 2002
With the above statement, Charlton Heston, who played Moses in the Ten Commandments, joined over 4 million Americans with Alzheimer's disease taking that long journey of goodbye into what Ronald Reagan called "the sunset of my life," and what his wife Nancy described as "distant place where I can no longer reach him."
The story of Alzheimer's disease began in l906 when Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a physician in Germany for whom the disease is named, studied the brain of a 51-year-old woman with symptoms of depression, hallucinations, and dementia. He discovered ... "a paucity of cells in the cerebral cortex ... and clumps of filaments between the nerve cells."1 Dr. Alzheimer's finding of plaques and tangles within the tissues of the brain remains the classic hallmarks of the disease even today, with the definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer's confirmed only at autopsy. Perhaps the most poignant moment in this discovery was when the patient uttered: "I have lost myself."
Alzheimer's disease is marked by the loss of cognitive ability, generally over a period of 10-15 years, and associated with the accumulation of beta amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles throughout the brain. These abnormal tissues prevent the proper transmission of electrochemical signals necessary for information processing and retrieval and suffocate neurons by inhibiting blood supply. The disease is characterized by impairment in memory and a disturbance in at least one other thinking function, such as language or perception of reality.
Alzheimer's disease is one of a number of dementias, defined generally as a deterioration of intellectual faculties, such as memory, concentration, and judgment, resulting from an organic disease or a disorder of the brain. These conditions may also produce emotional disturbances and personality changes. The word dementia has Latin roots meaning "madness" or "senseless." Dementia may be caused by many medical conditions, some reversible and some progressive, which can result in cerebral dysfunction. Of the many causes of dementia, Alzheimer's disease is responsible for the majority of cases.