Health Check: Early treatment key for Alzheimer's disease diagnosis

NBC 10 first met Norm Bessette in May 2005. A year earlier, he had been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's disease.

"I used to leave stuff. I'd start doing stuff and leave it there. If I was going to go somewhere I couldn't jump in the car and go, I'd forget where I was going," he said.

So when Norm first went to see Dr. John Stoukides at the Rhode Island Mood and Memory Research Institute in East Providence 10 years ago, he was enrolled in his first clinical trial. He was unable to tolerate marketed Alzheimer's drugs.

"He's been in a total of four Alzheimer's clinical trials over the past 10 years," said Susan Bessette, Norm's wife.

The goal of the trials was to try new medications aimed at reducing the buildup of the protein amyloid in the brain, which is believed to be a cause of Alzheimer's.

The idea is to get people, like Norm, diagnosed early in the disease.

"People who are treated very early in the disease actually do quite well and they see a slow stabilization in their rate of memory loss and possibly even some improvement over time," Stoukides said.

During a recent test, Norm was able to tell doctors what day it was and what year it was.

For the last several years, Norm has been on an intravenous medication he has infused once a month.

"It's made a big difference in our life," Susan Bessette said.

"(We) travel a lot and I do a lot of housework yeah," Norm Bessette said.

"He's good at that, very good at that," Susan Bessette said.

And the two grandkids the Bessettes were taking care of when NBC 10 first met them in 2005 are growing up and still hanging out with their grandparents.

"He still takes care of Eli, the grandson. Eli will come over and they'll play video games and that's hard. I can't play the video games," Susan Bessette said.

Stoukides is the director of geriatrics at Roger Williams Medical Center as well as the principal investigator at the RIMMRI. He said there are a half a dozen drugs in clinical trials that are showing promise and research continues to evolve.

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