DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Amy Osler doesn’t look sick– but, she is… diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at 50.
“Sometimes I’ll go to say something– I’ll think it, and then it’s gone,” admits Osler. It is part of dealing with a life that is suddenly more limiting. “There’s a part that’s very lonely,” says the Dallas wife and mother, “there’s a part that I can’t share, because I don’t know how to share.”
Osler may be lonely. But, she’s hardly alone. More than 5 million Americans are stricken with the dignity destroying disease… roughly 7% of them live right here in Texas. There is no prevention. There is no cure.
Experts say the defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s is the buildup of what’s called ‘amyloid plaque’ on brain cells.
“Just like if you have plaque that stays and causes a cavity, or destroys your tooth? That’s sort of what the amyloid plaque does in the brain cells,” says Diana Kerwin, MD. Dr. Kerwin is the Director of the Texas Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders Program. “When it [plaque] stays on, it can’t be removed, it starts to overburden the brain cells, and the brain cells die.”
What follows is memory loss and diminished cognitive functioning. But, could something as simple as ultrasound give Alzheimer’s patients back their memories?
“Ultrasound just means ‘sound that is a very high frequency’,” says Ashish Monga, MD, a board certified radiologist at Medical City Dallas Hospital. Dr. Monga says ultrasound technology has been around for decades and is most commonly used in sonograms to create images.
“It’s really safe, it’s really fast and it’s painless- we’ll do this on little babies.”
But, Australian researchers at the University of Queensland Brain Institute are using that same technology in a different way. They’re conducting experiments using ultrasound to destroy the brain plaque blamed for lost cognitive function.
“We were very excited after finding that not only could the ultrasound improve the memory of these mice,” says Gerhard Leinenga, a final year PhD student and researcher involved in the study, “but also reduced these amyloid plaques which very few treatments that have been tried so far have been able to do.”
After the ultrasound treatments, the mice were able to navigate mazes again – and solve problems that had perplexed them before. So far, the technique has only been tried on mice and researchers know they have much to learn. They are nevertheless confident that the technology that gave us sonograms, has the potential to give so much more.
Still, clinical results in mice are often difficult to repeat in human subjects.
But talk of a drug free, non-invasive treatment already has the researchers fielding inquiries from around the world. Closer to home, it is a catalyst for hope: Could scientists really one day restore what Alzheimer’s steals? “I’ll be the first one with my flag, waving it,” says Amy with a laugh.
She can laugh, now. Her initial reaction to the diagnosis was much as you would expect.
“When it first happened, I didn’t know what to do…we cried. Greg went to the Alzheimer’s people and said ‘what does this even mean???'”
WATCH WEB VIDEO EXTRA: AMY’S STORY
Even now, more than a year later, that answer is at times elusive.
“So many people would come to me and say ‘oh, aren’t you just so mad? can you believe it? Are you so mad at God?” And she insists with a shake of her blonde head: “Absolutely not. And all of a sudden, the peace just came.”
With the support of her family, Amy went public with her diagnosis in March of last year… sharing her journey with CBS 11 viewers.
“Within 2 hours, it went viral! I mean, we had flowers all over our front door, we had books, we had well wishes… It was like you had a baby again!”, she recalls with a bubbly laugh, “it was crazy.”
Amy has since become a sought-after speaker for her patient’s perspective on the disease. And her team raised more than $130,000 for Alzheimer’s research.
Progress is happening– but, can it happen fast enough?
“I’m just not as sharp as I was,” she admits, “I might not remember something that you just said to me.”
Amy admits she would not have chosen this journey. But, is so grateful that she’s not traveling it alone– she raves about her husband, Greg.
“I think about it often, that God also gave him to me,” and for the first time, her hazel eyes filled with tears, “because I couldn’t be here without him. And he is truly my hero.”
So while praying for that breakthrough, the Oslers continue to play, plan and travel. Amy knows that Alzheimer’s may one day steal her memories– but, she refuses to relinquish her dreams.
“I know the end is bad. But, that’s not right now. There could be a cure by then. But, if there’s not… there’s still, there’s still a purpose here.
And a peace that ‘surpasses understanding’.
“There’s hard days… but, the peace is always there.”