Health Check: See what Alzheimer's does to the brain

An exhibit at Body Worlds Vital in Providence shows the effect of Alzheimer's disease on the brain. (WJAR)

Want to get an inside look at Alzheimer's disease?

You can do that at Body Worlds Vital, a traveling exhibit that is currently on display at the Rhode Island Convention Center through this fall.

It's an anatomical exhibit of real human bodies, including the lungs, coronary arteries and the brain.

"I'm stunned by how, really -- I'm biased but I think it's beautiful," said Dr. Peter J. Snyder, chief research officer at Lifespan who focuses on Alzheimer's disease. "I think the displays are really well constructed, well presented and have immediate visual information that is digestible for the public and important for people to see."

He's referring, in particular, to the part of the exhibit focused on this disease, which is often referred to as the long goodbye.

"It's not only about the human body, but they have two brains on display here," said Donna McGowan, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association chapter in Rhode Island. "One is the normal brain and one is the brain affected by Alzheimer's disease."

Its goal, like Snyder's, is to advocate for more research dollars. And, on a personal level, to help those living with this memory-robbing disease.

"We presently serve 23,000 Rhode Islanders that we know of that have the disease and 100,000 unpaid caregivers, home-based caregivers," said McGowan.

"We need to get the word out. We need the public to be educated. We need to insure that enough resources are dedicated to the research that is fundamental to arriving at a discovery and treatment," said Snyder.

"The risk factors include histories of head injury, history of obesity, metabolic disorders like diabetes and heart disease. These are all important risk factors," Snyder said.

But he said there is some encouraging news.

"We have a lot of ongoing trials and planned trials and we need actually healthy aging volunteers and people with risk in their family to all participate in our research," Snyder said.

You can help make a difference by purchasing tickets to Body Worlds through the Alzheimer's Association. You'll get a discount, and the Alzheimer's Association will get part of that money.

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