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Early Detection of Alzheimer's Disease
By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 5 of 6)

Clinical trials are the final testing ground for new treatments that are currently under investigation. Each trial represents the results of years of scientific thought, observation, and data analysis and is only possible through the participation of patients and their family members. Clinical trials are the principal way that researchers can discover whether a treatment is safe and effective for patients, especially for those in the early stages of the disease. Trials take place at private research facilities, specialized AD research centers, teaching hospitals and even at physiciansí offices. Taking part in a clinical trial can be a big step for both the patient and the family so itís necessary to discuss the expectations and pros and cons of participation with the clinical trials staff.

There are two kinds of drug trials available:
Treatment trials with existing drugs that assess whether an already approved drug may be useful for other purposes. For example, an arthritis treatment may help in the prevention of AD.Treatment trials with experimental drugs or approaches to discover whether a new drug or treatment approach may help improve memory function, decrease symptoms, slow the progression of AD or prevent it altogether. Each one of these clinical trials includes up to three phases. Once these phases are complete and investigators are satisfied that the treatment is safe and effective, the research team can submit its results to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for review.

When a person signs up for a clinical trial, they are asked to sign an informed consent form to ensure that they are protected and well cared for during the study. If a participant is unable to provide informed consent because of memory loss, it is still possible for an authorized representative (usually a member of the family) to give permission. Next, patients go through a process of screening to see if they qualify and can safely participate before they proceed with the study. Although clinical trials may not produce miraculous results, many participants believe that even if the benefit to them is small, they are making a valuable contribution toward future research. Family members have also found that the best benefit of participating in a clinical trial is the regular contact with the research team. The team can be a link to education, provide advice on the emotional and physical aspects of AD, and offer supportive and helpful information.

The amount and variety of clinical trials underway are a sign of the intensity of research to seek solutions for a disease that robs the mind and takes away the essence of a personís life. Current clinical trials are available on the Internet under or by contacting the Alzheimerís Association or the Alzheimerís Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR) at 1-800-438-4380 (a service of the National Institute on Aging).

Support for Caregivers:
Caring for a person with AD can be likened to driving on an unfamiliar road, riding a roller coaster or even walking on a tightrope. It can be an incredibly stressful ride, yet rewards can also be visible. The key is to balance your own needs against those of the person you are caring for day to day. Many caregivers find that they are stronger than they ever thought possible and that they feel rewarded knowing they have stayed committed to helping a loved one during the difficult years.


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