Be Well, Marsha 2/2/16

Forget me not

by Marsha Bonhart

In my much younger, other life, I was a model. I never graced the covers of major magazines, but I did my share of runway modeling, promotions and photo shoots. Back in those days, other than the Ebony Fashion Fair, there were few African American women who were reflective of what I aspired to be—and less than a handful were seen in the predominate industry. So when Naomi Sims, Beverly Johnson and the divine B. Smith pivoted on the scene, I was overjoyed. My memory of those beautiful women is that of pure grace.

However, the three of them have no recollection of me because I never met them. But even if I had, one of them would probably not remember me now. It’s no secret that the beloved Ms. Barbara Smith, who turned her modeling career into the iconic B. Smith multi million-dollar lifestyle brand, is now an Alzheimer’s patient.

Smith’s 2013 diagnosis was earth shattering. She and her husband, Dan Gasby knew something was wrong because of her textbook symptoms—forgetfulness and explosive anger. At risk was her wealth-filled business empire—cookbooks, magazines, a syndicated television show and restaurants—all with her famous signature, B. Smith.

In an interview with Essence magazine, Smith and Gasby describe paying for a medical test that injected radioactive isotopes into her bloodstream. Doctors were able to see plaque build up in her brain that hindered the path of neurons that controls cognitive functions. Gasby has taken Smith’s car keys which frustrates her because she tries to maintain her independence. “She still wants to drive, but she doesn’t know what day it is or what year it is,” Gasby says in the Essence article.

But no one has to look far to be familiar with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It is the most common form of dementia, and in the United States, the disease claims more than five million patients who are 65 and older, with an estimated 200,000 younger than age 65. The National Alzheimer’s Association estimates the cost for caring for an Alzheimer’s patient in the United States last year alone was $226 billion, with an overwhelming number of therapies failing to alter the progress of this memory robbing disease.

In the Dayton area, Dr. Meenakshi Patel of Valley Medical Research is working with a clinical trial that is apparently creating great results. One of her patients is 85-year-old Nellie Sheppard. She became involved in Dr. Patel’s local clinical trial named, “NOURISH AD” after the retired Ohio Bell employee began noticing symptoms of memory loss four years ago. “Many times I wasn’t able to remember but it does come to me, but not every little thing,” Shepherd said. Shepherd is one of five local trial participants, 800 are expected to be involved in 90 locations nationwide. The study uses the experimental drug AC 1204, which is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It’s expected to see if the drug will improve memory and other cognitive skills.

According to Alzheimers.net, unless a cure is found, more than 16 million Americans will have the disease by the year 2050, two out of three of the memory-robbing disorder diagnoses are women and African American, and Hispanic cultures are more at risk.

Nellie lives in Warren County with her daughter, Bernadine Sanders, who, like her mother, is a widow. On occasion, she will quiz her mother to help keep her mind sharp. “What was yesterday?” Bernadine asks.

“My wedding anniversary,” is her mother’s response after a pause. “How many years?” “63,” Nellie answers.

It’s not easy for to watch her mother, a former switchboard operator, lose her memory, but she felt it was best for Nellie to move in with her. “I would like to keep Mom as long as I can,” Sanders says.

In the meantime, along with the trial drug, Dr. Patel has prescribed Aricept, a choline esterese inhibitor. This medication is not a cure, but it does slow the symptoms by improving the function of the nerve cells in the brain in patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s.  ”This is an inevitable downward spiral, we are slowing it down”, Patel says. Sanders feels her mother’s symptoms became pronounced after her father died. According to Dr. Patel, often a couple provides a cognitive check and balance system for each other and when one of the two is gone, the other doesn’t function as well.

In order to create more comprehensive results for Dr. Patel’s AC 1204 clinical trial, more volunteers are needed. No one knows if Nellie has actually had the drug, or a placebo, but Bernadine is hopeful. Right now, she only has memories of her mother’s symptoms. “She called me one day and said, ‘I am on Stroop Road.’ What are you doing there?” Her mother replied, “I don’t know how to get home.” This is a reminder of a similar experience when B. Smith was finally found after wandering 17 hours in Manhattan, Harlem and Long Island a couple of years ago.

Bernadine Sanders now questions her own brain health because she has been able to trace Alzheimer’s to a paternal great aunt and grandmother. So she is proud that her mom is involved as a participant in this trial. To be included as a case study in this trial, please visit AD-trial.com or call 937.208.8298.

Be well,

Marsha

Marsha Bonhart is a freelance writer and public relations/marketing consultant in the Dayton area. She can be reached at MarshaBonhart@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Megan Garrison grew up in the small town of Lampasas, Texas, spending her time immersed in Ernest Hemingway novels and dreaming of being a journalist one day. Now she attends the University of Dayton and is hard at work studying to be a war-time correspondent. Though she is very goal oriented and works hard to achieve her dreams she also loves to have a little fun. She DJs her own radio show on Flyer Radio and makes it a point to attend great movies and local concerts. But her greatest love will always be books.

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