Tom and Nancy Conley

Family takes action to help fight Alzheimer’s disease

Nearly 68,000 Kentuckians today are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, but the emotional and financial tolls are much higher. That’s because, in the words of Linda Van Eldik, Alzheimer’s is a “family disease.”

“Alzheimer’s affects the patient, of course, but as the disease progresses, it is also devastating for the people who love and care for that patient,” said Van Eldik, director of the University of Kentucky Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

While a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other age-related dementias brings an incredible amount of uncertainty to patients and their families, the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging (SBCoA) provides information, support and hope. So say Tom Conley and daughters Terri and Susie, whose wife and mother Nancy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2009. The Conley family hails from Louisville, but they found care for Nancy in Lexington at UK.

“The care Nancy got while she was at Sanders-Brown and the clinical trials she participated in, I think slowed the disease down,” Tom said.

Nancy passed away from breast cancer in November of 2014.  Looking back the Conley daughters feel grateful that their mother’s last years were full of good memories.

“I got my mother — my real mother — a few more years than I probably would have if she had gone untreated,” Terri said.

SBCoA was established in 1979 and is one of the original 10 National Institutes of Health-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers. It is internationally acclaimed for its work in the fight against age-related diseases.

Faculty and researchers work together within the framework of the Center’s mission to explore the aging process and its implications for society. Research spans bench to bedside, from defining disease mechanisms in the brain and exploring cellular changes that lead to AD, to studies exploring healthy aging and ways to lower risk of dementia, to clinical trials testing potential new therapies that slow or stop the progression of age-related diseases of the brain.

“We are trying to cure Alzheimer’s and we know that here at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging we will be part of that cure,” said Dr. Greg Jicha, professor of neurology at the UK College of Medicine and SBCoA. “Whether it comes next year or comes five years from now or 20 years from now, we will be playing a central role in that ultimate goal.”

Tom Conley hopes he’ll have a role, too. He continues to volunteer at Sanders-Brown and encourages others to donate their time and resources, all in the name of providing support for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and their families.

Watch this video to learn how Sanders-Brown helped the Conley family extend Nancy’s quality of life and why philanthropy is so integral to ensuring that UK researchers contribute to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease while also helping other Kentucky families.

As Tom puts it, “You have a jewel right here in little old Lexington and we need to keep polishing it.”


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