Think about it: Clearing our clouded brains

The Alzheimer’s Society rolled out the numbers: 35.6 million people in the world living with dementia.

Doctors say country-music star Glen Campbell (“I am a Lineman for the County”) suffers memory-loss because of Alzheimer’s Disease. But he keeps singing.

In a television interview before a musical tour of Britain, Campbell said he had always been forgetful, and denied that there was anything wrong with him.

His wife Kim reminded Glen that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She added that he is a musical super-talent nevertheless, still at the top of his form.

Both Glen and Kim were right. During the conversation he sometimes fumbled and backtracked, but he remained jovial and warmly connected to his listeners.

Maybe the day is not far off when people will discover and apply remedies for memory loss just as cheerfully as we now accept glasses and hearing aids. Considering the Campbell interview and other clues to the future, the possibility now arises that brain science and popular understanding will take that leap forward.

Dr.  Patrick McGeer and his wife Dr. Edith, who are both neuroscientists aged in their 80s, appear to believe in such an outcome. They do research at the University of British Columbia on scientific projects relevant to dementia.

“This is a malevolent disease that can and will be eliminated,” Dr. Patrick told Carolyn Abraham of The Globe and Mail.

He sees the profit motive as a barrier to research. “The failure of getting something effective to the bedside is because of the schism between basic science and commercial interests,” he said.

Abraham reported: “The common pain reliever ibuprofen, for example, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. But, says Dr. McGeer, companies haven’t tried it because they are interested only in compounds they can patent.”

Dr. Patrick McGeer commented:  “The result has been an unbroken string of disappointments in pharmaceutical-company-sponsored clinical trials.”

The Alzheimer’s Society rolled out the numbers: 35.6 million people in the world living with dementia; 500,000 in Canada, including one in eight Canadians over age 65 and one in two or three over 85. Estimated cost of caring for dementia patients, $50 million a day in Canada, $604 billion a year worldwide.

A drug company might make billions with a new miracle pill. But wouldn’t it be smart politics for governments to invest money for research pointed toward public well-being, not profit?

Liberal-Conservative politicians don’t see it that way. Patrick McGeer said federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq “has refused even to discuss it with us.”

The NDP could make mileage pushing for government funding of the kind of medical research that old-line politicians reject because of their wrong-headed false take on “business-friendly” policy.

NDP corrective action would be in harmony with the Tommy Douglas tradition and with the thoughts driving the Occupy Wall Street movement.

If politicians gave people a vote on the subject, most citizens probably would urge high financial priority for dementia research and brain-centred inventions.

Admittedly, people and the daily media seem to be dazzled speechless by today’s explosive brilliance of creativity in many fields.

Some inventions are U.S. war and space-travel devices: Spy moths and beetles, implanted with electronic communication gear, released in swarms to relay intelligence from enemy positions. Wrap-around electronic skeletons that will enable a human on earth to manoeuvre a mimicking robot on Mars.

But some current inventions could offer dementia patients direct help. Care-giving robots, co-operating with humans, are technically quite advanced already; but they need thoughtful, far-sighted investment to make them more useful.

In the further distance, computer-brain interface may plug people into artificial intelligence. This begins to look like a real if scary possibility with the launch of a new potential human-in-a-box computer activated by multi-choice q-bit chips. Its inventors believe it will be able to learn and think.



—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer. Think About It appears every second week in the Gazette.


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