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Bill Lyon: Secret weapon against Alzheimer's

His name is William Carl Lyon. My name is William Carl Lyon. Yes, we are namesakes.

William Carl Lyon, the retired columnist, and William Carl Lyon, a.k.a. Liam, the great-grandson.
William Carl Lyon, the retired columnist, and William Carl Lyon, a.k.a. Liam, the great-grandson.Read moreCLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

His name is William Carl Lyon.

My name is William Carl Lyon.

Yes, we are namesakes.

We are at opposite ends of The Circle of Life.

He is going on 3.

I am going on 79.

For him, the days are only beginning.

For me, the days dwindle down to a precious few.

He is called Liam. Celtic pride. Echoes of "Danny Boy" and "Amazing Grace."

I am called Pop-Pop. Of all the names I have been called, and there have been more than a few combustible ones, Pop-Pop is the one that makes my heart melt.

We are blessed. We live only a few miles apart.

Play dates are a wonderful invention.

He is upright and running at full throttle while I plow stubbornly along, goaded by visions of a walker or a wheelchair, and damned if I'll surrender to that.

And then in my head I hear that familiar mocking venomous cackle: "What's the matter, Lard Butt? Giving up so soon?"

It's Al, short for Alzheimer's and my nemesis, the slimy weasel who wants to lay waste to my brain . . . and to yours, too, for there are 5.3 million of you who are afflicted with this insidious and lethal disease, and that number is only going to grow.

Al is a cowardly runty little gnome who lurks in the shadows. By the time the damage he has done to his victims shows up - the blank stares, the incontinence, the abject loss of memory, all the indignities - it is too late.

They tell us that the best we can hope for is to keep Al at bay while the white-coated researchers down in the lab search for the cure that has eluded them so far.

It's been the better part of the last decade since there has been a drug to get worked up about. But of late, we are told that some promising meds are in the pipeline . . . whatever that means.

Yo, Granny!!

Two recent headlines brought me up short. The first one referred to me as "elderly."

Pardon me?

For some reason that set me off. For some reason I took umbrage at "elderly."

I can accept, say, "Old Fart." I like it, even, because it strikes me as defiant, feisty. Get outta my way! And I can live with answering to "Curmudgeon," meaning crusty in a lovable sort of way ... and "Geezer," as in, been around the block a time or two . . . or this ain't my first rodeo, pardner.

But "elderly"? Sets my teeth on edge. You know what adjective they hang on "elderly"?


Shut Up, Al

The other headline that piqued my interest was this:

"Your Grandma Needs To Be Smoking Pot"

Now it just so happens that I am married to a Grandma. And have been for the better part of 53 years. Or is it 52? No matter. Either way, I don't recall her putting the match to a weed and lighting up or wolfing down pot-laced brownies. Nor did she herself care to testify, preferring to invoke the Fifth.

But some researchers at the Salk Institute announced that they have discovered evidence that an ingredient in marijuana may be able to remove the build-up of a toxic protein linked to Alzheimer's. It sounds on the surface like a headline designed to titillate and if that sounds the least bit skeptical it is because I have been let down too many times by reports of laboratory triumphs that falter and fail when they are put to the prove-it test.

The pot people admit that more testing needs to be done. And that takes time.

Which, of course, is precisely what we on the outside don't have.

Stalking Al

The hunt to capture Al and pin him to the ground is no small campaign. He's cunning and merciless, a mind-robber teasing and taunting the researchers with false hope,

It's not for lack of trying down there in the labs - Eli Lilly, for example, says it has spent $3 billion in the pursuit of Al and his scurvy brethren. And it has been reported that there are, at this very moment, 18 different ongoing Alzheimer's projects and clinical trials. It's like the gold rush days and some researchers say it is not hyperbole to proclaim the med that defeats Al the most important finding in history.

But you can't beat what you can't catch. Al hasn't even been dented - so far. Since he was identified about a century ago, there has been no way to prevent, cure, or even slow his progress.

Quite a daunting scenario, to be sure, but think how much sweeter victory will taste while we watch Al twisting in the wind.

Notes From A Journal

The problem with Alzheimer's is that it gets a head start, and you can't play catch-up. By the time you see the telltale signs of dementia, Al has you hooked.

And while there are meds out there, they can only ease your situation, not stop it. That's why we yearn so fiercely for a cure.

In most of the books and magazines I have consulted, the consensus opinion is that, depending on your condition, your life expectancy after diagnosis is eight years, give or take. Of course, there are far-ranging variances.

I'm close to what would, by their reckoning, be the halfway mark. And as I take inventory, I decide so far, so mostly good. Balance and depth perception not so hot, but then the tremors have abated. Nocturnal visits are required with increasing bladder urgency, but the trade-off is that, since I'm up I might as well read. And, hey, write. So OK, that takes me three times as long as it used to, but I'm still reasonably lucid.


Getting dressed continues to be hit-or-miss but there's always someone around to help and modesty has never been a problem for me.

In sum, I've collected some bumps and dings, had to be helped off the floor a time or two, but like the song from the old Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown says, I ain't down yet.

Secret Weapon

Of all the meds and all the walking and all the therapy, what keeps me going, always so hard and so fast, what makes me want to stick around for more, stands at the top of a hill and calls to me: "Come on, Pop-Pop. . . Come on. . ."

"I'm coming, Liam, I'm coming."

Bill Lyon is a retired Inquirer sports columnist.