Paula Hunter doesn’t have Alzheimer’s, but she’s currently enrolled in two Alzheimer’s study trials — one clinical and one longitudinal. Her passion for participation in this clinical research was spurred on by her heritage: both Paula’s mother and father had Alzheimer’s.

Speaking with Paula, you get the sense that there’s never been a brighter, more positive person to talk about one of our most challenging, heartbreaking diseases.

Paula’s family

When Paula talks about her father, who passed away several years ago from the disease, she both laments and seems comforted by how he died. “At some point,” she says, “your brain forgets to tell your heart to beat. There’s not a lot of pain — you just go.”

Paula has similar memories of her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s posthumously, after she died of cancer: “When my mother began showing signs, we went to [University of California, Irvine] for assessment, and we heard her giggling in the next room. She came out of the assessment saying, ‘It was fun, we played games.’”

Helping science

Paula’s mother donated her brain to science, as has Paula herself. Frankly, that's something Paula is passionate about. In 2002 it brought her to what would become a 14 years and counting longitudinal study for Alzheimer’s. This included one six-hour assessment a year of cognitive testing, vital signs, checking stride and gait — anything that might show effect.

With Paula’s family history and her 14 years of cognitive tracking, she was brought into an A4 clinical study. “The specific requirement for A4 assessment is having the amyloid plaque (as verified by MRI and CT scan) but to not have diminished cognition,” explains Paula.

Paula has been in the A4 for over two years now, and she reflects back on these studies as “probably the most important thing I will ever do.”

Responsibility

“We all have responsibilities,” Paula says, and hers are to science. “When my mother was three months pregnant with me, she contracted polio. They thought I would have it, but I didn’t. I always felt that my body had something in it to fight.”

While Paula’s mother was hospitalized, Paula was kept in the hospital for four months — four months of lots of tactile attention from the nursing staff, something she credits for her good nature. “I was in high school when polio was eradicated,” she says. “Thinking that I could have an impact like that [on Alzheimer’s] is wonderful.”