HOUSTON - Alzheimer's disease is devastating for patients, their families and friends.
For many, symptoms begin to appear when a person is in his or her 60s or 70s. But a small percentage of people begin to show signs in their 50s, 40s and even 30s.
Researchers are studying new therapies that may slow progression in these younger patients.
Marty Reiswig is a husband, father of two and realtor. He said he believes in making the very best of every day, for good reason.
"At 38, I know I may only have another 12 years of good mental capacity," Reiswig said.
He came face-to-face with his family's genetic fate more than a decade ago. At one reunion, there were very few relatives over 60. He and his now-wife Jaclyn had just started dating.
"He saw an uncle who was clearly having problems," Jaclyn Reiswig said. "That's when it became clear to him. He took me for a walk and said, 'If you want out now, I understand.'"
"Without skipping a beat, she said, 'I'd rather have 30 good years with you than a lifetime with anybody else,'" Marty said.
Dr. Eric McDade is a neurologist who studies the familial early onset of Alzheimer's. It's known as the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network Trials Unit, or DIAN-TU. Researchers are focused on defects in three genes.
"These genetic changes are actually passed in a way that each generation from somebody who has the gene has a 50-50 chance of getting the gene defect," McDade said.
People who inherit the defective gene almost always develop Alzheimer's at a young age. Marty Reiswig's father developed symptoms at 52. As part of the study, he had genetic testing. For now, he and Jaclyn have opted not to know the results.
"The burden of finding out that I do have the gene would be far worse and heavy and difficult than not knowing," Marty said.
The current trials are using drugs that attack different forms of the amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer's.
"My hope for this study is that it gives us an opportunity to live and enjoy life just five or 10 more years," Marty said.
He and his brother are both enrolled in the DIAN-TU trials. Researchers are enrolling participants in a third arm of the trial, which will test a daily oral medication.
Click here to find out if you qualify for the trial.
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