Ever since my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease during my senior year in college, I have paid close attention to news of potential cures. So I was riveted one morning this fall when I read about the team of American and Chinese researchers who had used a pair of anti-cancer drugs already on the market to treat Alzheimer's in fruit flies and mice. Their drug cocktail had a startling effect on the demented animals: It reversed their memory loss.
News of their discovery made me think back to my father and all that he had suffered since that frigid January night in 1996 when my parents called me to announce his diagnosis. I remember staring at the cross on my stark white bedroom wall as my father assured me that God would take care of him. "Remember," he had said, quoting his favorite verse from Romans, "everything works together for good for those who love God."
Understanding how Paul's words applied to Alzheimer's was not always easy. Every stage on my father's 12-year journey through dementia was a difficult one, from the early days when my mother and I would search frantically for him as he wandered lost in the neighborhood he no longer knew to the middle years when I would arrive at their home to find him rumpled and confused, his once-neat salt-and-pepper hair mussed and wild as he wandered aimlessly from room to room. Then there was the last stage, when the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer's had choked off Dad's memories not only of old stories and friends but of how to talk, how to swallow, and finally, how to breathe.
What if we could have given Dad a drug to reverse all that, to rewind his 12-year deterioration and restore him to the man he was before ...1
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