HLFS Ursprung - Ursprungstraße 4 - 5161 Elixhausen - schule@ursprung.lebensministerium.at
2. Motivation

Everyone has heard of Alzheimer’s, and yet few have direct contact to the disease that could easily become “public health enemy number one” in the future. Although the older people are most commonly afflicted with Alzheimer’s, the disease can also indirectly affect younger people, namely, family and friends.

How should you react, when you notice that your own grandma or grandpa keeps forgetting or confusing things or is increasingly confused in general? How do you properly deal with your loved one?  Can the disease be stopped?

One of our classmates has been confronted with this issue. His grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He wanted to know more about the disease and to understand it better.

It was nearly impossible for us, and our project leader Prof. Konrad Steiner, to answer many of his questions. So, we decided rather quickly to make Alzheimer’s disease the focus of our school project. Over the course of the project, we realized that nearly every one of us had had a personal experience with Alzheimer’s. Yet, when it came to how to deal with people with the disease, we were all equally clueless and rather uncertain.

So we went on our exciting trip into the fascinating world of science. We wanted to take advantage of the school laboratory and use current methods and high-tech equipment for our research. We also knew that our project work would be a nice change from the daily grind.

Of course, we knew that we had a difficult task ahead of us, which spurred us on even more. After all, despite intensive research, dementia is still incurable. For the laboratory component, we planned to study the effects of the small miRNA on plaque formation, which is commonly known as “calcification.”

As an alternative to the tricky lab work in the natural sciences, we organized a workshop with a clinical psychologist on the topic “Understanding Dementia.” It was about how dementia can be recognized in the early stages and how people with dementia can be treated respectfully and “properly.” In addition, we visited a nursing home and the University Clinic for Geriatrics. This gave us a very detailed and comprehensive picture of the disease.
Additionally, we had some anxieties and high expectations for our visit, which were, in the end, vastly exceeded. The clinical picture of the disease was literally right before our eyes. By speaking with the people in the nursing home, we were able to apply our previously acquired knowledge and saw the disease in a new light. Through direct contact with the people with the disease, we were able to take away many lessons for later in life. Our experiences will certainly be useful, should we ever have to personally deal with a case of dementia later in life, as the disease can affect anyone.

Finally, it’s worth reemphasizing that it is wrong to assume that youth and Alzheimer’s are opposites. The disease is definitely worth addressing at a young age for a couple of reasons. First, young people are often affected as relatives of someone with the disease.

Secondly, it is possible to counteractthe advancement of Alzheimer’s as the “public health enemy number one.” Due to our aging population, it is very important to maintain a functioning health care system by taking a proactive approach to Alzheimer’s disease. The longer the disease can be kept under control and the longer the affected individuals can be cared for at home, the better. Through diet and exercise, as well as regular brain training, it is possible to delay the onset of the disease.