A critical combination to fight dementia

Barrow Magazine Spring 2018

Happening Now

A critical combination to fight dementia

It started with a tremor in his pinky finger. Jay Layman didn’t think much of it at the time. He was 51 years old, seemingly in good health, and working as an executive. It was probably stress.

But when the symptoms progressed to a hand tremor, balance issues and difficulty organizing and planning things at work, Jay and his wife, Dawn, persisted in searching for answers. Dawn researched the best doctors and programs for cognitive and balance disorders, which led her to the Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders Program at Barrow.

Jay and Dr. BurkeAfter extensive testing, Jay received a timely diagnosis – Lewy body dementia – and the ability to enjoy quality time with his young family.

“We were open with our kids about the reality of the disease, and the diagnosis was hard on them at first,” Dawn says. “They were afraid of losing their dad. But it was critical for us to get an early diagnosis, giving us the time to plan for the future and relish every good moment we have together.”

Lewy body dementia is a progressive disease that can affect thinking, memory, movement, sleep and behavior. The Laymans are making the best of difficult circumstances, even joking that it’s “Lewy” acting out when their dad has a hallucination or can’t find the right word.

“We try to have a positive attitude each and every day – even when I have to drag my legs out of bed because they’re so stiff, or I can’t form a sentence,” Jay says. “My goal is to set a good example for my boys, that you can have bad things happen but you don’t have to quit.”

Lewy body dementia is often difficult to diagnose, so the Laymans appreciate the early diagnosis.

“We have been given the gift of time by Barrow,” Dawn says.

Uncompromising search for a cure

Lewy body dementia affects 1.4 million Americans, making it part of a growing dementia epidemic. Another form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the top 10 causes of death, and the only one that cannot be prevented or cured. As many as 16 million Americans are expected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by 2050.

The leading doctors and scientists in the Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders Program intend to change these statistics. At Barrow, research is integrated with patient care, and physicians treat patients like Jay with the latest therapies, while continuing to investigate a cure.

“We have been able to initiate 18 new research studies in the last two years, and are farther down the path toward finding more treatments to delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and ultimately, cure the disease,” says Dr. Jeremy Shefner, chair of the department of neurology and senior vice president. Studies range from the first ever blood test to detect Alzheimer’s to one of the first Lewy body dementia studies in the medical field, to  vaccines, prevention and imaging research.

“Barrow is uniquely positioned to lead research into new Alzheimer’s treatments,” says Dr. Shefner. “In addition to a strong pro-research culture, the institute has a critical mass of talented faculty and an infrastructure focused on innovative studies.”

Through participation in the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study, Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute, Global Alzheimer’s Platform and Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, Barrow strives to provide the best treatment available for dementia patients, and just as importantly, provide hope for the future.

As scientists actively search for a cure, patients and families are managing the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia – but at Barrow, they aren’t alone. By integrating research with compassionate patient care, the Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders team holds each patient’s hand as they manage the difficult journey following their diagnosis. People from 17 states travel to Barrow for the highest level of patient centered care.

Many institutions conduct high quality research, but few are able to combine excellence in both research and clinical care.

Through the institute’s dedication to both, within the next 10 years the Barrow team aims to make dementia a manageable condition and change the trajectory of the disease for families like the Laymans.

Jeremy Shefner, MD, PhD, holds the Kemper and Ethel Marley Professor and Chair of Neurology and is Senior Vice President of Barrow Neurological Institute. Dr. Shefner is an international leader in ALS research and received the Sheila Essey Award in 2014, the major award given annually by the ALS Association and the American Academy of Neurology. He earned his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School and his doctorate from the University of Illinois. He has published approximately 200 chapters and papers in peer-reviewed journals and has served on multiple grant review panels.

Why we give: Jay and Dawn Layman

“As parents, we teach our children the importance of giving back to our community. We believe we were able to play a part in helping other families receive help on their journey, and we feel grateful to have been given the opportunity to do so.”