Leeza Gibbons is best known as an Emmy-winning television personality.
But her grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease, and when Gibbons’ mother was diagnosed with the memory-robbing ailment, Gibbons decided to put her career on hold.
She created the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation and began devoting her time to helping people cope with Alzheimer’s.
Gibbons told The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen that her mother, Jean, is in the final stages of the disease.
Before it set in, Gibbons says her mother was a “warm vivacious, loving woman who loved to dance and loved to be with people.
“I think that, because her life story was rewritten by this disease, she is now just existing with the music still in her. And I think that’s what hurts the most: She just never got to finish her story.
“And so part of my work with the memory foundation that I love so passionately, is really her story and her love and her energy.”
Gibbons says, when her mother was diagnosed five years ago, she encouraged Gibbons to speak out about the disease: “She said, ‘Honey, tell this story and use this to educate and inspire.’ She did not want to be private about it. She very much wanted to be part of kicking down doors and opening windows and pathways of communication so we can understand this.”
As a result, Gibbons started the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation, offering a resource center, support and education to families affected by Alzheimer’s.
Gibbons notes that Tuesday is National Memory Screening Day.
“People are afraid to look at this,” Gibons observes, “but we get screened for cholesterol and blood pressure and mammograms, you name it. It’s a great idea to get a baseline memory screening. This is not a diagnostic tool, but a first step toward understanding if you may have some impairment, some cognitive issue. We want to promote cognitive wellness and aging successfully.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, which causes thinking and memory to become seriously impaired. It is the most common form of dementia. The disease was first identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906. He described the two hallmarks of the disease: “plaques” – numerous tiny dense deposits scattered throughout the brain which become toxic to brain cells at excessive levels and “tangles” which interfere with vital processes eventually “choking” off the living cells. As well, when brain cells degenerate and die, the brain markedly shrinks in some regions.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
Alzheimer’s disease is a physical disease which attacks the brain resulting in impaired memory, thinking and behaviour. The disease is named for the German physician, Alois Alzheimer who, in 1907, first described it.
As brain cells die, the substance of the brain shrinks. Abnormal material builds up as “tangles” in the centre of the brain cells and “plaques” outside the brain cells, disrupting messages within the brain, damaging connections between brain cells. This leads to the eventual death of the brain cells and prevents the recall of information.
Memory of recent events is the first to be affected, but as the disease progresses, longterm memory is also lost. The disease also affects many of the brain’s other functions and consequently, many other aspects of behaviour are disturbed.
There are two different types of Alzheimer’s disease:
Sporadic Alzheimer’s disease
# The disease can affect adults at any age, but usually occurs after age 65
# Sporadic Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common form of Alzheimer’s disease
# It affects people who may or may not have a family history of the disease.
Familial Alzheimer’s disease
# The disease runs in a few families and is very rare
# If a parent has a mutated gene, each child has a 50% chance of inheriting it
# The presence of the gene means that the person will eventually develop Alzheimer’s disease, usually in their 40’s or 50’s
# Familial Alzheimer’s disease affects a very small number of people.
“So, at locations all across the country, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America has memory screenings that are administered by healthcare professionals. The tests are free, quick, noninvasive and very simple.
“Also, on our Web site, which is LeezasPlac.org, you can find a memory screening that you can take anonymously. You can do it for yourself or for your loved one, and it tell give you, within 94 percent accuracy, if you have an impaired memory or not. And a pretty useful tool to begin a report to take for the next step.
“Early diagnosis is key. If you can delay or manage this disease for, say, three years, six years, you can save lots of money in health-related costs. But more importantly, dignity and independence and a high level of mental functioning.
“And by that time, maybe there will be more treatments, but the treatments and the preventions that are available are best affected in the early stages. Most people don’t catch it until the moderate stage, at 65 to 95% of the cases are really caught too late to do much.”
Gibbons also told Chen of a CD called “Reflections,” available at LeezasPlace.org, with 15 songs done by major stars. “Music is the last thing that people can reach through that fog,” Gibbons notes, “and you can communicate with someone with memory disorder that way. So we put together this CD. …If you play it in your computer, it will give you more information about our organization.”
By Brian Dakss