NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley revealed the struggle of taking care of her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, in her recently release book. She sat down with NewsChannel 5 to talk about the highs and lows of her journey.
If you or your family hasn't been touched by Alzheimer's disease, chances are, you will. One-third of people over 65 and 50 percent over 85 years old will develop some form of dementia.
A Vanderbilt University doctor said the disease is growing at an alarming rate. There's no treatment, let alone a cure, but there is work being done locally, on several fronts, to change that.
Kimberly Williams stole America’s heart in the remake of Father of the Bride. But when it was her turn in real-life to walk down the aisle to country crooner, Brad Paisley, the experience was not that of a Hollywood script.
“Oddly enough, one of the first indications that something was wrong was when I introduced her to Brad Paisley. She was not fan. She reacted very irrationally to my engagement and was very upset by it,” says Kimberly Williams-Paisley. “At my wedding she was inconsolable.”
Looking back, it was one of the first clues that something wasn't right with her mom, Linda Williams. Years would pass before her mother's dementia was diagnosed. Ten years after that, Alzheimer's disease took her life.
“Dementia is a family disease that is complicated and there's really no easy graceful way through it,” said Williams-Paisley.
That messy journey turned this actress into an advocate and author.
“I wanted to write the book I wish I had 10 years prior.”
In her New York Times Bestseller, just released in paperback, Where The Light Gets In, Williams-Paisley recounts some of the mistakes her family made.
Keeping the disease in the shadows has also had a chilling effect on research.
Dr. Laura Dugan, Head of Geriatric Medicine at Vanderbilt University says “until a few years ago the amount of research dollars that were going to Alzheimer's and other Dementias was about 2 to 3 percent of what's going to cancer. The NIH did get some additional dollars and now I believe it’s 5 percent.”
Despite the shortfall, Dr. Dugan has been flipping Alzheimer's research on its head.
“We’ve de-emphasizing specifically Alzheimer’s disease and we’re not studying the mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease. We stepped back and said ‘what’s the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease’ – and that is aging. So we’ve been studying how the brain ages and what’s been exciting is that we’ve been able to see the hallmarks of very early inflammation in aging. So we think they are setting the sub-straight up for Alzheimer’s to develop.
The inflammation Dr. Dugan spoke of isn’t just concentrated to the brain.
“The brain is sensing this whole body low-grade inflammation and what it's doing is modifying some signaling pathway and cell biology in the brain in an abnormal way. That's setting the stage for the progression down into this brain injury we call Dementia or Alzheimer's.”
If her research pans out, it could mean treatments before the symptoms of the disease ever surface.
“We actually have a couple of interventions / therapies that we're testing right now,” said Dr. Dugan.
As the research moves forward, Kimberly Williams-Paisley is channeling her mother -- a one-time fundraiser for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
“She had such a knack. She could ask people for millions of dollars and get it!”
Now, Williams-Paisley is putting on her fundraising hat and leaning on her country music connections to throw a disco party to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.
“We're inviting country artists to come and do something they don't normally do and perform their favorite disco song.”
The event is June 4 at the the Wildhorse Saloon. Find more information here: www.alz.org/discoparty
During our interview, Williams-Paisley said the one piece of advice she gives to all families.
Williams-Paisley also talked candidly about how she learned to look for the silver linings of this disease.