Cameron Hamilton is a data scientist who starred in the Netflix reality show “Love Is Blind,” where he met and married his wife Lauren. We spoke with Cameron about his grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s, and his mom, who is living with Parkinson's disease, as well as Cameron’s hopes around new technologies that may benefit the lives of people with neurodegenerative diseases.
Cameron, tell us about your maternal grandmother and how Alzheimer’s impacted your time with her.
My earliest memories of my grandmother were such happy summer memories. She had a lake house she built with my grandfather on the shorefront, and I recall lots of happy times there with my parents.
My grandma was one of a kind, and one with nature, having grown up in the Maine woods. She relished living off the land: she was an avid gardener and loved bird watching. She was one of the first women to graduate from University of Maine Farmington and was a school principal later in life, as was my mom. She was very independent and disciplined, so sharp.
By the time I really knew her as a person, she was already starting to experience signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. My mom was the primary caregiver for my grandma, and we spent a lot of time with her as her disease progressed. As a young kid, the hardest part was seeing, very tangibly, how quickly the progression of the disease was happening. It hit her particularly hard when it came to recognizing people, which caused paranoia, since she thought her family members were strangers in her house.
Today, we know your family is facing another neurodegenerative disease. Can you share your mom’s experience with Parkinson’s?
My mom has fought against and overcome a variety of health issues, including breast cancer, after being diagnosed in 2011. By 2014, mom started experiencing movement difficulties, including the hallmark tremors of Parkinson’s. Although we did not know it was Parkinson’s at first, our suspicions were quickly confirmed by mom’s physician.
"There are a lot of ugly truths about Alzheimer’s, ones that can be scary to face. While that can be disheartening, there are resources, treatment plans, and ways to mitigate symptoms. There is a lot of hope."
It was terrifying to see her symptoms develop, especially as she had just fought and won her battle with breast cancer. And although my mom’s mental acuity hasn't changed, she did have difficulty with her cognition when coming out of the fog of chemotherapy. Today, she takes medication for Parkinson's, but I am concerned about our family history when it comes to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, knowing that sometimes these neurodegenerative diseases go hand-in-hand, and that they affect women more than men
You are the founder of the artificial intelligence (AI) consulting firm Alliance AI. Tell us about your passion for technology as related to health care.
When we went to visit my grandmother at her care facility and she no longer recognized my mom, I could see the anguish on my mom's face. That is when I vowed to myself that I was going to use science to progress the study of Alzheimer’s. I felt like I had an obligation to do that.
This idea constantly hangs in my mind, that I need to do more, to move the needle forward. I want to approach Alzheimer’s disease from all angles, from raising public awareness and funds to contributing my insight as an AI researcher to help translate the data that already exists, ultimately working toward a cure.
The beautiful thing about AI and data science is that you can apply techniques to unearth things in the data that may seem counterintuitive, which gives you a new direction to look into. I would love to take data that's out there and come up with new approaches. I think about things like whether or not it could be possible to supplement some of the neurological functioning that gets lost due to diseases like Alzheimer’s through AI. That's something that's very salient in my mind: The possibility of regaining losses that occur in neurodegenerative diseases, through technology. I’m hopeful that some of these analogous technologies can be developed, and that these data-driven approaches will be the key to making more headway.
What are your hopes for families facing a disease like Alzheimer’s during this difficult past year?
I’ve found that becoming more educated about Alzheimer’s disease
itself can be the most helpful route. There are a lot of ugly truths about Alzheimer’s, ones that can be scary to face. While that can be disheartening, there are resources
, treatment plans, and ways to mitigate symptoms. There is a lot of hope, and I'm optimistic about the future of Alzheimer’s research.
Knowing that other people who have faced or who are currently facing the disease are out there, part of a big support system, is also really powerful. Attending the Walk to End Alzheimer’s was a very rewarding experience for me. Having the opportunity to hear other people's stories made me feel less alone in my own experiences. I recommend that anyone facing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in their family get involved in a support group or through an event like Walk to End Alzheimer’s, where you will find others facing some of the same challenges you are. There is a community waiting to hear your story, and support you!
What advice do you have for couples who have faced the last year together?
One thing that me and Lauren took away from our experience on “Love Is Blind” is the idea that conversation is the foundation for any relationship. The same goes for families facing a disease diagnosis, or any of the things life throws our way: Talking about things can make all the difference. It may be a cliché to say so, but communication is essential in all relationships. I think having difficult conversations, such as what it is like to experience the disease, is especially important, as well as making a concerted effort to really listen so that your loved one feels truly heard.
In my relationship with Lauren, I have found it helpful to take the time to write down some topics to discuss with her the next time we get an opportunity to talk. As corny or as odd as that may sound, I’ve found that doing so has helped us grow even closer over time. I think this practice may be particularly helpful for people who are currently part of a long-distance relationship, when there aren’t as many natural moments to bring up topics the way you might during a dinner date or a walk in the park.
Just putting in the effort and showing the person you love that you care is important, whether you’re in the same room or having a virtual game night date. And even if you can't see someone you love physically, you can send them flowers, or food delivery. There are lots of ways to show someone you care.
What message do you have for families who find themselves facing a new diagnosis of dementia in their family?
Have hope. There is a lot of potential in Alzheimer's research right now. I think it's a matter of time, the right resources and the best approaches will yield effective treatments.
I believe in finding a cure by any means necessary, whatever avenue brings a better quality of life for people with Alzheimer's: That's what I want to focus on. I want other people facing this disease to know that I share in their optimism as scientists work toward a cure, and that I support and am part of the Alzheimer’s community.
Don’t be discouraged by what happened yesterday; hold onto your passion and know we are headed in the right direction. I hold onto my optimism through everything I do, and so far, it has not let me down.
What has the past year has taught you about the power of love?
I went on “Love Is Blind” at a point in my life where things were a bit stagnant. I wanted to have an adventure, and to keep an open mind. But I certainly didn't have any expectations of getting married! I thought it would be a fun two-week adventure, that you'd have to be crazy to get engaged after dating someone through a wall for a couple weeks. And yet, here we are.
About: Cameron met wife Lauren Speed, CEO of the Speed Brand, on the reality show “Love Is Blind,” where the premise is that contestants speak with potential partners without ever seeing their faces, and can only meet in person after getting engaged. Cameron and Lauren have a YouTube channel, “Hanging with the Hamiltons” and a book entitled “Leap of Faith.” You can follow Cameron on Instagram.
I have found that love can push us to do things that we wouldn't normally do. It gives us a sense of resiliency during difficult times, which has been an immense source of strength and motivation for me. Through different trials and tribulations, having love and support can give us protection against all the challenges in our way. Having someone who loves you and has a willingness to care for and listen to you will always be invaluable. Love is hope: Hope for tomorrow, hope for the future.