HOUSTON - More than 1 million Americans face a devastating disease that affects balance and destroys memory. For the first time, researchers are studying treatments for people with Lewy body dementia.
Michael O'Leary has always been an athlete.
"I did triathlons and even raced paddle boards," O'Leary said.
But last year, he fell while playing in the U.S. Open Pickle Ball Championships, and his new bride noticed other changes.
"It would almost appear like I had been drinking when I really wasn't," O'Leary said.
His balance, memory and speech were getting worse. They finally got the devastating diagnosis; O'Leary had Lewy Body Dementia.
"We estimate there are approximately 1.3 million Americans who have Lewy body dementia," Dr. James Galvin said.
Galvin said the disease causes neurological symptoms due to a buildup of protein in the brain called Lewy bodies.
"First, there has to be a dementia. That is a progressive change in cognitive abilities, slow movement, balance problems and rigidity or stiffness," Galvin said.
Hallucinations are another hallmark of the disease, where patients see things that aren't really there.
"The hallucinations typically are very well-formed of either little people or furry animals," Galvin said.
The scariest symptoms for O'Leary were related to the sleep disorder.
"He would jump out of bed, thought somebody was chasing us. He'd run into the sliding glass doors," O'Leary's wife, Cindy, said.
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University are studying a drug that would support memory by increasing chemicals in the brains of LBD patients.
"The more that's around, the more likely you are to form a new memory," Galvin said.
O'Leary enrolled in the study and has been fitted for a specialized sports wheelchair so he can continue playing pickle ball.
"I can't wait to get on the court more," he said.
O'Leary had the honor of carrying the American flag at the 2017 U.S. Open Pickle Ball Championships, where he was the only wheelchair athlete to compete. Doctors are currently enrolling LBD patients for a sleep disorder study.
Anyone interested can call 800-501-0684 to find the nearest doctor or research center for details on these studies or visit http://studies.clin-edge.com/vh_rbd-1/.
Copyright 2017 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.