Alzheimer’s disease: researchers cherish hope…

Alzheimer's disease: researchers cherish hope…

It gradually eats into the memory of those who are affected by it. Alzheimer’s disease, named after the German neuropsychiatrist who discovered it, Alois Alzheimer, was described in 1906 from one of his patients who died at the age of 51 after five years of progression of a disease still unknown at the time. era… Today, we know that this neuro-evolutionary condition affects memory, but also orientation in space, judgement, language, praxis. Ultimately, all cognitive functions are disrupted. The evolution of the disease is very variable from one individual to another. Thanks to treatments, we can slow down its progression and above all set up multidisciplinary early rehabilitation programs. Also, be aware that since affective memory often persists for a long time, it is important to show evidence of affection (petting, touching) to patients. A credo reaffirmed here by our expert, Dr Véronique Lefebvre des Noëttes, psychiatrist at the Émile-Roux hospital in Limeil-Brevannes (Val-de-Marne) and author of La Force de la caresse, ed. of the rock.

France Dimanche: What message of hope can we give to Alzheimer’s patients and their families?

Dr Véronique Lefebvre des Noëttes: There are two. First of all, you should know that if you have good control of your figures for hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol (which are the main signs of cardiovascular risks) and that you have a healthy lifestyle, you reduce the number of Alzheimer’s patients by 30%. To be put into practice for everyone, from 45 years old! Then, second reason to be optimistic: with the discovery of the neuroplasticity of the brain, it is proven today that when we continue to learn new things and to stimulate our mind, this improves our capacity to resist neurological diseases. scalable.

FD: You are publishing a book on the power of caresses with Alzheimer’s patients. You say that it is primarily a communication tool. That’s to say ?

VLN: With these patients at the end of their evolution, when you want to provoke a real encounter, you have to approach them, touch them, caress them. And since I have been working in geriatrics, I have noticed that the patient’s spirit wakes up: he suddenly looks at you with joy, is astonished. When verbal communication is no longer possible, touch will awaken this ability to be in the world which is lacking in these patients. So, we can again exchange with the patient, through the eyes, but also with the word. The memories come back… In a skin-to-skin exchange, like when they were babies and they didn’t yet have access to words.

Twice as many women as men are affected by Alzheimer’s disease after the age of 65, according to Public Health France. 1 million people are victims in France.

FD: The caress is also a great comforter?

VLN: Yes, the caress consoles, soothes, restores cohesion to the body and the spirit dislocated the ca emp by the pain, the handicap, the incurable disease and during a difficult end of life. This benevolent gesture, adapted to the person and the moment, is just a presence, a sign, an encounter between two human beings.

FD: What have you noticed in your care unit?

VLN: I am convinced that we have to find other ways of relating. Because in the case of Alzheimer’s, I am addressing a patient whose mind is crumbling, whose faculties of communication are crumbling. I have been practicing this “empathetic caress” for thirty-five years, with very positive results each time.

FD: What is the “touch-massage” you speak of?

VLN: In France, when we talk about massage, it’s the responsibility of physiotherapists. I want to extend this approach to all caregivers who work in geriatrics with the most vulnerable among us. But in hospitals and nursing homes, this is still far from being the case…

FD: So drugs aren’t the only tools capable of helping these patients?

VLN: Of course, because we’ve been hoping for twenty years to discover the drug capable of curing Alzheimer’s and, despite promising leads, we still haven’t developed it. However, today, what counts is that we know how to better take care of the sick, while resorting to non-drug therapy.

FD: By rediscovering, for example, the power of music…

VLN: When a patient is agitated, it is often enough to put on classical music to soothe him. Because this music floods the brain with pleasure hormones.

FD: The same goes for art that “caresses the brain”…

VLN: The caress indeed touches all our senses. It solicits them, wakes them up and it is set in motion to the rhythm of our emotions. We are beings of flesh and heart. Very often, people with Alzheimer’s produce amazing works of art. It’s as if a life drive were inscribed on the paper, the canvas, in the clay. This takes the patient out of his withdrawal. It shows him that he is capable of doing it and it proves to the society in which we live that Alzheimer’s patients are not “bulky people relegated to a corner”.

FD: You also explain that with the successive confinements, and especially the first one, the patients suffered from the deprivation of physical contact…

VLN: Absolutely, they then slowly let themselves slide towards death, refusing to drink, to eat, tearing off their infusion… And it was enough to reintroduce the visits for them to have the desire to live again.

FD: At the end of life, communicating with a sick person is still possible through touch. Your advice: take the lead…

VLN: Do not be afraid to caress a cheek, even if there is a fever, to touch a forearm, to pass a hand in the back… It is a small natural gesture that, alas, we no longer allowed.

FD: You even say that the Japanese, also lacking medical personnel, have developed a robotic hand that reproduces the sensations of a human hand. We’re not there yet, are we?

VLN: No, fortunately in France, we don’t yet live in this robot society. Nothing will ever replace human warmth and gentleness.

FD: Whether on the side of caregivers or caregivers, have we forgotten to touch, to caress the other?

VLN: We are now obsessed with technicality, obsessed as we are with surgery alone, which is not the only healing factor. We have forgotten the overall care of our elders. I repeat, long live the empathetic caress!

There is a chance that curative treatments will arrive in the next few years, but all the specialists agree in saying that we must act early because the lesions form in the brain fifteen to twenty years before the appearance of the first symptoms. This silent disease has a slow evolution. We also know that we can reduce the probability of being affected by avoiding the twelve risk factors, including a sedentary lifestyle, tobacco, diabetes, hypertension…


In 2020, near Dax (Les Landes), the Landes Village opened, an experimental, innovative and almost normal district (with a mini-market, a restaurant, a hairdresser, etc.) populated by people suffering in particular from Alzheimer’s disease. Unique to date in our country, this structure, which accommodates 120 patients, aims to improve the quality of life. There will be others.

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