Face to Face with Alzheimer’s

In a small Prentice Women's Hospital conference room in March, Esther LeVine chatted with the young man sitting next to her. A spunky 70-year-old, she is tall, with long salt-and-pepper hair and ruby-red fingernails. Nearby, a middle-aged man anxiously looked around the room, as if trying to recall once-familiar surroundings.

They have one thing in common: Alzheimer's disease.

They came together with graduate student researchers from the Neurobiology of Information Storage Training Program for a first-of-its-kind meeting to help the researchers, who study memory and learning within the human brain, learn firsthand about life with Alzheimer's.

Grad students spend a lot of time in the lab, and researcher Luke Sebel said they need interaction with real patients to "be reminded of the ultimate goal." Sebel, a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program, a joint medical-doctoral degree program, was one of five graduate students who gave short presentations during the event explaining the science behind the disease. The Feinberg School of Medicine's Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center sponsored the meeting.

Throughout the presentations the scientists and the patients and their families asked one another questions and talked about coping with memory loss. Richard Kluzak, for example, shared his experience of not recognizing his 43-year-old daughter while visiting her in London.

Kluzak and the other patients in the group are participants in CNADC's Buddy Program, which pairs medical student volunteers with Alzheimer's patients. (See "Untangling Alzheimer's," fall 2009.) 

"People used to think we were crazy," said LeVine, a Buddy Program participant. "So it's good to do what we're doing, talking and sharing about this."

— Christopher Danzig (J08)