Leading the Fight: Nantz National Alzheimer Center

Since its inception in 2011, the Nantz National Alzheimer Center (NNAC) has become a world-renowned referral center, treating thousands of patients each year. Its goal: slow memory loss progression and improve the quality of life for every patient.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Rebecca Axline, LCSW, a supervisory clinical social worker at NNAC who provides clinical intervention and program development focused on helping patients and their families deal with the treatment of neurological disease. 

Leading the Fight Against Alzheimer's: Nantz National Alzheimer Center

How did the Nantz National Alzheimer Center get its start?

March Madness. The Masters. The Super Bowl. If you like sports—heck, if you’re in the same family as someone who likes sports—you’ve heard the rich, Emmy Award-winning voice of Jim Nantz announcing games on CBS Sports for almost 30 years now. The story of how Jim Nantz and his wife Courtney became connected with Houston Methodist begins with his father, who battled Alzheimer’s disease for 13 years.

“Jim is from Houston originally,” says Rebecca Axline. “When his dad started experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, he began seeing Dr. Stanley Appel, the director of the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute.”

Dr. Appel is part of an esteemed roster of doctors and social workers at the Houston Methodist Department of Neurology that has been at the forefront of research and treatment of Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Parkinson’s disease since the 1990s. When Jim returned to Houston to spend time with his father and family, he had no shortage of opportunity to interact with Dr. Appel and his team, and the groundwork for the NNAC was laid. Beyond their generous lifetime commitment to found the Center, Jim and Courtney are heavily involved in meeting and reaching out to new patients, as well as work in the community.

Jim Nantz recounts his father’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s—which happened alongside his own rise to the top of the sports broadcasting world—in a tender and anecdote-rich book, Always by My Side: The Healing Gift of a Father’s Love. The book was popular and well-loved, which points to the hard truth that while each individual’s struggle with Alzheimer’s is incredibly personal, it is also intensely involved for family members and caregivers, who must find the strength to fight the battle anew every day.

What aspects of Alzheimer’s disease is the NNAC focused on?

“What’s unique about our center,” says Axline, “is that we not only provide hope for the families, but we have a more comprehensive approach—many times there are other things that might be affecting the neuropsychology, and these can be treated. We investigate all possibilities in each of our patients.”

These include factors like:

  • Chemical depression
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Sleep apnea

But the Nantz Center is also uniquely focused on developing family relationships. “Our social workers understand caregiver fatigue,” Axline continues. “We work hard to help them understand that they’re not alone in this, and that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We help families to understand they have resources available to them, and that we’re here to help.”

What can we expect to see from the NNAC in 2014?

Dr. Joseph Masdeu, director of the NNAC, has more than 30 years’ experience in Alzheimer’s research and neural imaging. His work has included organizing a program to forestall the onset of the disease in people genetically predisposed to it, and he plays an instrumental role in the Center using new neural imaging devices to investigate new treatments that may be realizable down the road.

“The social workers,” notes Axline, “are working to further develop and refine their principles for how they interact with families.” She continues:

“We’re looking at additional ways to educate families, because, with Alzheimer’s, knowledge is power. Both patients and caregivers need to know: you’re not alone. When you feel you’re isolated, you feel alone, which is why it’s incredibly important to promote the truth that what you’re feeling and going through is normal.”

Indeed it is. Today, one in every three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and the disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Last year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association 2013 report, it cost the nation $203 billion. One hard truth we face is that what’s normal now is expected to become only more so in the coming years: that number is expected to rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050.

Thankfully, we have dedicated, generous spirits like Jim Nantz, and the diligence of doctors and social workers like the ones at the NNAC working to improve care and advance treatments. We are not alone.

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  • Lee Anderson

    To Jim Nantz, it is encouraging to see your work for Alheimer’s Disease. My mom was diagnosed with this disease and I wish she had friends like you to support her. I got my degree in Radio and T.V. We have watched you for a long time on the tube. Thank you for your time. Let me know if you have any advice for us. Thank you, Lee J. Anderson

  • Kari Soderberg

    I am trying to reach Jim Nantz about a supplement we have my
    Dad with Alzheimer’s take on a daily basis. I take it as well. It is a Chinese
    herb called Lion’s Mane. The Chinese have been using it for 1000’s of years for
    memory and cognitive awareness. My Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in June
    of 2016. As his POA and main care giver my life has changed considerably. Lots
    of ups and downs. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t do something for
    my Dad, behind the scenes or directly for him. When Dad was diagnosed he was in
    rough shape. He couldn’t draw a clock. There was one hanging on the wall in
    front of him, he didn’t know what day it was or who the president was. He
    couldn’t remember his girlfriend’s name who was sitting right next to him. When
    I told my alternative care doctor about my Dad he said to have him start taking
    the Chinese herb Lion’s mane. Since starting him on this we have seen
    improvement in his memory skills. He still says the wrong words occasionally
    and gets his yeses and no’s mixed up. But still tells me, his daughter that my
    pants are too long or asks for my husband by name when he isn’t with me. For
    the most part my Dad is still Dad now. Just occasionally we lose him. Like when
    he wants to tell you something that involves more than a few words. I am not
    sure how Lion’s mane works but the Chinese believe in and they have for many
    years. Look into it and see if it helps in your trials. My Dad’s girlfriend
    visits him every day and my brother about 3 times a week. (My brother lives 5
    houses form him). I bring him supper from the outside world once a week and
    when he can my husband whom my father adores joins me. I hope this message
    finds you well. As children of parents with Alzheimer’s we need to worry that
    it may happen to us. That is why I take Lion’s mane daily. Thank you for all
    you have done for Alzheimer’s community. We are forever grateful. One more
    thing. Before my Dad got this horrible disease he used to do the New York Times
    Sunday paper in pen! He was the most intelligent man I knew. This is a curse
    worse than death for all of us.

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