Early and Younger Onset Alzheimer's - Why CHS is Taking Part in a New Clinical Trial

An estimated 5-million people in the U.S. suffer from Alzheimer's.  But the face of Alzheimer's is changing.  It's no longer only elderly patients who suffer from this disorder.  More and more people in their 40s and 50s are being diagnosed.  This is considered Early/Younger Onset Alzheimer's -- and it's one reason the Carolinas Healthcare System is taking part in a new clinical trial for a brand new treatment.

Donna Zvanut of Charlotte is taking part in the clinical trial.  She's relatively new to the effects of Alzheimer's, a disorder that attacks the brains nerve cells or neurons, leading to memory loss, decreased language skills and eventually decreased ability to do everyday tasks.  Donna is still able to do things like laundry, but is limited when it comes to things like caring for her grandchildren.

"Unless I have somebody going with me, I obviously can't take one of them out by myself, or those kinds of things," said Donna Zvanut.

Zvanut, 64-years old, was officially diagnosed two years ago.  But she started showing visible symptoms when she was only 58. 

Refusing to give in to Alzheimer's without a fight -- Donna, with her husband Joe by her side -- volunteered to be a part of the new clinical trial.  She's using her family as her inspiration, as well as Pat Summitt.  The former Tennessee Women's Basketball Coach was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when she was 59.  Donna and Joe are Tennessee alum, and believe in fighting just like Summitt.

"They eat the right food, they exercise, they're active, they have jobs that challenge them mentally and physically.  And all of a sudden they're diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  But you're not diagnosed at the beginning of the disease -- you're diagnosed two-thirds of the way in," said Joe Zvanut.

Mr. Zvanut hopes this new treatment being tested will be an initial step to finding a cure and/or a vaccine.  Short of that, right now there are only a handful of treatments available.  And at best, they work to slow the progression of the disorder.

"Currently we have about five treatments.  Just 5?  Just 5," said Dr. Oleg Tcheremissine, a Psychiatrist with Carolinas Healthcare System who is helping implement the trial to hopefully add a sixth more effective treatment.

Dr. Tcheremissine says the clinical trial will take roughly three to four years for each patient to complete.