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Dementia patients finally get an answer

A new clinical trial provides a diagnosis and targeted treatment plan

March 13, 2017

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What do you think of when you think of Alzheimer’s disease? Some may think of the elderly, and others may think of memory loss – and they’re not wrong. But Alzheimer’s can have uncommon symptoms making it hard to diagnose.

That was the case for Ken and Mary Margaret Lehmann.

Ken, 79, started forgetting things here and there around six years ago. Over the years, his reasoning, problem solving and short-term memory have become tricky at times – all symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s. But Ken’s symptoms were progressing much slower than normal. So when a new trial came to HealthPartners that would give him some answers, he was the first in line.

IDEAS trial

Ken was the first patient at HealthPartners to take part in the IDEAS trial, or Imaging Dementia – Evidence for Amyloid Scanning. This trial helps identify if a patient has Alzheimer’s. Then a treatment plan is customized based on the diagnosis. Just like you wouldn’t treat a bug bite with cough medicine, there are different medications and therapies that are better for patients with Alzheimer’s over other kinds of dementia.

This trial has patients go through three steps:

  1. A PET scan. All patients get a brain scan that help detect if amyloid plaques exist. Amyloid plaques can clump together and block signals in the brain, which is linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. The results. The patient goes over the scans with their doctor. The doctor will then be able to determine what kind of dementia the patient has.
  3. The treatment. After talking time to process the news, the patient and doctor will talk about a customized treatment plan.

When Ken got his brain scan results, he and Mary Margaret were stunned. His brain was filled with amyloid plaques, which means he most likely has Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Michael Rosenbloom, a HealthPartners neurologist who is leading the trial, said, “We’re still in the stone ages with this disease. We don’t have the same tools for a definitive diagnosis like we do for diabetes.”

Ken and Mary Margaret had seen six doctors before finding Dr. Rosenbloom. And ever since then, he’s been walking beside them through this journey. Because of this trial and the diagnosis, Ken is now eligible for more clinical trials than before. And for that, they are grateful.

“There are things I need to do as a wife and caregiver to Ken in terms of support, love and companionship. Things I need to plan for,” said Mary Margaret. “This diagnosis may be more important to me than to him.” In addition to daily planning, Mary Margaret is also planning for the future, which includes financial and legal planning, and long term care.

While Ken was the first patient to go through the entire process, Dr. Rosenbloom has seen about 10 other patients since then. If you would like more information about the IDEAS trial, please call HealthPartners Clinic Research at 651-254-7936.

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