OSU doctor leading efforts in fight against Alzheimer's disease

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COLUMBUS - A simple drive to work for Eric Thompson changed everything. He pulled over with no idea where he was. He had no memory of the drive he'd made thousands of times before.

"I had seen Alzheimer's disease, because of my family history but I couldn't believe it was happening," said Thompson. "I was diagnosed at age 54 and I'm 59 now."

Alzheimer's disease may have stolen Thompson's sense of direction, but he refuses to let it take everything. He's developed a new, functional lifestyle by using cell phone alarms to remember to brush his teeth, eat and take medicine. He also leans on the support of his wife.

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"She is a very special lady," said Thompson. "Also, if I didn't have a GPS I wouldn't be going anywhere."

Thompson was the seventh member of his family diagnosed and he's determined to be the last. He has insisted on treatment at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center under Dr. Douglas Scharre and the recommended clinical trials.

"Given that I have Alzheimer's I'm willing to take a risk," said Thompson. "And I don't think my condition has gone down even though its been years."

OSU's Director of Cognitive Neurology has heard some call the medical progress against Alzheimer's disease 'bleak'. 14 years have passed without an approved, new treatment. Doctors say the current drugs only temporarily help some symptoms. Efforts to attack the brain-clogging plaque that researchers believe causes the disease have not been proven to work. Alzheimer's is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only cause in the top 10 without a cure or preventative medication, according to the Alzheimer's Association. But Dr. Scharre has optimism.

"It's not a stalled process at all. It's a moving process," said Dr. Scharre.

Recently at the International Alzheimer's Conference, Scharre said he heard details on two scientific breakthroughs in studies that could help inch forward treatments for the disease.

"Researchers are working to find drugs that can potentially get rid of these toxic proteins that build up in the brain or prevent the formation of these toxic proteins," said Scharre.

He also has his own work with Deep Brain Stimulation or DBS. Scharre worked with others in a small study that could hold promise. Patients who received electrical stimulation to their brains through a wire that went through their skulls and into their frontal lobe circuits were able to hold onto some cognitive and daily functioning abilities longer than those who did not.

"They already have these electrical pulses, what this does is tries to inhibit a population that is being counter-productive or tries to excite an area," explained Dr. Scharre.

The early experiment, though small, was promising. Scharre says it needs more testing.

The federal government is offering new money for Alzheimer's research, and doctors say they look for donations to allow for the start of new studies. The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and the Neurology Institute are hiring 15 new neurology and researchers.

As work to stop the disease continues, Dr. Scharre said there are three steps for people to consider doing now.

ALZHEIMER'S CALL TO ACTION:
1. First, get a baseline cognitive test.
2. Follow your thinking over time. You can do that by taking the SAGE written home test each year.
3. Talk with your doctor, so that at the first sign, you can take action.

"There are some questions to ask: Is there a change in their memory? Is there a change in their thinking abilities? Are they having more trouble finding words? Are they getting turned around in more familiar areas? Are there problems with their judgment or problem-solving?" said Dr. Scharre.

Eric Thompson believes the work being done within OSU Wexner Medical Center will lead to the breakthrough he needs, but in the meantime, he's not slowing down.

"I play basketball. I destroy the young, high school kids," said Thompson with a smile. "It bothers them, but I can still shoot the 3, even at my age."

Click here to print the home cognitive test from OSU.
Click here for more information on DBS for Alzheimer's Disease.