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Most people have a loved one or acquaintance who is dealing with the heartache of Alzheimer's disease. For Keoni Kauwe, a professor of biology, that loved one was his grandmother, Hattie Serrao, he said at the Forum on Tuesday.

Because Kauwe was so young at the time, he did not understand what it meant for his grandmother to have this disease or even what it meant for his family who cared for her. Even as a graduate student who studied Alzheimer's, it was difficult to grasp an understanding of the disease’s impact.

Then Kauwe began meeting with those who actually suffered from Alzheimer’s and their families. He attended autopsies and made progress with his own research. The perspective he gained from these experiences—and the overwhelming need for a cure—eventually led him to focus his professional life on trying to solve the disease.

Keoni Kauwe
Credit: Savanna Sorensen/BYU Photo

Kauwe used Tuesday’s Forum to educate the campus community about Alzheimer’s by addressing some of the common questions about the disease.

What is Alzheimer's disease?
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain's nerve cells, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, along with behavioral changes—consequences far more sinister than typical age-related memory loss.

"For example, an age-related change in memory would be sometimes forgetting the names of people you recently met, or forgetting an appointment and remembering it later," Kauwe said. "An Alzheimer’s disease–related sign of memory loss could be forgetting important and familiar dates or events, asking for the same information repeatedly, or an increasing reliance on family members for things that a person used to handle on their own."

What causes Alzheimer's disease?
According to Kauwe, the known risk factors for Alzheimer's disease are age and DNA, with DNA encompassing both family history and specific genetic variants.

Can I do anything to prevent Alzheimer's disease?
"Research into prevention suggests that good cardiovascular health, physical exercise, intellectual and social activity and following the Mediterranean diet may support brain health and prevent Alzheimer's disease," Kauwe said. "However," he continued, "these data are not conclusive and individuals that follow these recommendations may still develop Alzheimer's disease."

Is there hope in finding a cure?
“I wish we already had a solution,” Kauwe said. “However, I am confident that we will have one in the future.”

What can I do to help solve Alzheimer’s disease?
Kauwe suggests that there are many ways to be part of the solution, but a few places to start are:

  • Become an advocate
  • Participate in caregiver and patient support groups
  • Participate in ongoing research efforts
  • Donate and help fund meaningful research efforts

“I pray that, whether we are considering Alzheimer’s disease or any other challenge of the human condition, we will ‘stand close together, and lift where we stand,’” Kauwe concluded. “This means leveraging every one of the talents and circumstances that our Heavenly Father has blessed us with to serve others and to do good continually.”

If you missed Kauwe's remarks, the Devotional can be streamed on BYUtv.org and will be archived on speeches.byu.edu.

Next Devotional: Wade Hollingshaus, College of Fine Arts and Communications​

The next BYU Devotional address will be given by Department of Theatre and Media Arts Chair, Wade Hollingshaus on Tuesday, July 26, at 11:05 a.m., in the JSB Auditorium.

His remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv and BYUtv.org, KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM and BYU Radio.

Writer: Beau Jones
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