Sunday, May 7, 2006

Hope for Alzheimer's

I met Patty Doherty, who impressed me right away with her passion over the sufferings of Alzheimers patients and their spouses and children. And then I found out that she was using that passion to raise money for a researcher who was trying to crack the mysteries of the disease. And the researcher was working in the next town over. Great story.


Date: May 7, 2006
Edition: Palm Beach section LOCAL: !B


Richard McNally was a pilot, a fun-loving man with an off-beat sense of humor who flew corporate jets for a living and who'd come home to a household as loud and chaotic as seven children could make it.

His life was rich when he retired to Palm Beach Gardens. But after a while, the old Richard McNally disappeared. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. And over the course of 11 years, he developed great holes where his memory used to be.

For a while, the stories were almost funny: Dad would wander into a neighbor's house and help himself to crackers in the kitchen.

But then he couldn't drive. And he couldn't be alone.

One of his daughters, Patty Doherty, a graphic designer, moved down from Boston with her husband, a chef, to take charge of her father's care.

"We never wanted to put him in a nursing home," she says. "I had no idea what was in store for us. And still today there's very little help available. The disease never improves. It just deteriorates. And there's no treatment that's effective."

Patty and a younger sister thought they could provide their father's hands-on care if they split the duties.

But he had become incontinent. He couldn't brush his teeth. One minute he was the person they knew. The next, he was someone they didn't recognize.

"After a year," Patty says, "we were ready to kill ourselves."

The brothers and sisters, most of them living up North, pooled resources and hired 24-hour help. The first year, it was $10 an hour, more on vacations and holidays. Each following year, the hourly wage rose a dollar.

"It was like a little industry," she says, "managing the caregivers."

Insurance didn't cover it. Medicare didn't.

But the children had to bear the financial burden. Otherwise, their mother would never leave the house, never play bridge or go to church, never catch a breather.

When Doherty heard 21/2 years ago that The Scripps Research Institute was expanding into Florida -- the Palm Beach Gardens vicinity, no less -- she was elated.

She became an unabashed Scripps supporter from the start. She watched closely, and with alarm, the many times it looked like the county might blow it.

"These are the people who can cure Alzheimer's," she'd say. "And when you see what the disease can do, you don't want anything to stand in the way of that vision."

She got to know a Scripps scientist, Malcolm Leissring, who plays a mean metal rock guitar and who heads a lab that's seeking an Alzheimer's cure.

Saturday, May 6, 2006