I am becoming impatient. Season by season I sense my faculties eroding. Yes, I understand that mine is a progressive disease, and, as far as I can tell, my rate of decline is a bit slower than the norm. Four-and-a-half years since my earliest symptoms, in most social situations I can pass for normal. But drop me off alone at an airport, and my anxiety will spike. And require me to change planes in, say, O’Hare Airport, en route to Seattle, with limited time to catch my connecting flight, I would be courting disaster. The ever-flipping electronic boarding times seem part of a system-wide cruel joke on impaired travelers. Just as I would find the SEA abbreviation, I would lose sight of the flight number. I would have to set down my carry-on luggage, pull out a mini-notebook from my jacket pocket, concentrate my hardest, and hope to jot down the correct gate number and time. It’s unlikely that I will fly alone again.
And yes, I am aware that many people are far worse off. I’m not only talking about people with Lou Gehrig’s disease, one of the cruelest neurodegenerative diseases. I’m also thinking of B. Smith, the African-American fashion maven who is now well into the middle realm of Alzheimer’s three stages, despite being diagnosed only about three years ago. What frustrates me is the parade of failure of Alzheimer’s drug candidates. Many of us know that the vast majority of Alzheimer’s drug trials end in complete failure. If Alzheimer’s researchers, some of the smartest people on the planet, were a baseball team, their collective batting average would be not much above .000. There are only a few drugs on the market, and the best-known one, Aricept, provides limited efficacy.
The latest disappointment came, rather cruelly, just before Thanksgiving. The Boston Globe reported that Eli Lilly didn’t get over the efficacy bar to continue with their research. The company had already learned that their drug candidate would not halt the disease. What else is new? But there was alluring hope that the drug would slow the pace of the disease, and that gave people like me optimism that we might enjoy a significantly wider window before we reach the disease’s extremely unwelcome final stage. “We didn’t get the results we wanted or expected,” a spokesman stated. Isn’t this the way that Alzheimer’s trials always end?