Patti Eilbacher's husband Leo jokes that if he comes back in the next life, he wants to be one of her three cats.
She loves them, and says, all things considered, Patti says, she loves the life she and Leo have together.
Patti says, "We'll go travel around, we'll go out to lunch, have friends over, that type of thing. Some of it's fun. But, underneath, I've got this scary thing, waiting to attack me."
That "scary" thing is Alzheimer's disease, which progressively damages the brain, causing memory loss, and mental decline. Patti, now 74, began struggling with short-term memory problems about three years ago, but her long-term memory is fine. Still, she and Leo, married 48 years, watched her mother battle Alzheimer's.
So, Leo, once a professional baseball player for the Baltimore Orioles, knows what they're facing. Using the baseball metaphor, he says, “It’s like you’ve struck out with the bases loaded. There have been people who have been cured with cancer. I don't know one that's been cured with Alzheimer's yet."
But the Eilbachers aren't giving up. This spring, Patti, whose Alzheimer's is considered "mild," joined a clinical trial called the NOBLE study at NeuroTrials in Sandy Springs. Dr. Michael Lacey is the medical director. He’s impressed with Patti.
Dr. Lacey says, "She is someone that is very effervescent and open and active. And she is someone who, her condition has not driven her underground. She is someone who still is very engaged."
Hoping to stay engaged as long as possible, Patti volunteered to test an investigational drug that shows promise in slowing down the progression of Alzheimer's.
Lacey says, "Right now it's called T-817MA."
Unlike most available Alzheimer's drugs, which treat the symptoms, T-817MA is designed to slow down changes in the brain that cause key nerve cells to die off.
Dr. Lacey explains, "It's called a neuro-protectant. Meaning it blocks the effects on the brain of some of these rogue substances."
Neither Patti nor Dr. Lacey know if she's getting the test drug or a placebo. But patients in this study are allowed to stay on the Alzheimer’s medication’s they’re taking. Patti has no guarantees this experimental drug will help her, but being a part of this study gives her hope.
Patti says, "I feel better about going through the whole thing, and I think that's half the worry. If you're ready to just pack it in, then what good is life, why bother?"
Researchers in the second phase of the NOBLE study are enrolling 450 Alzheimer’s patients. Candidates must be between 55-85, have mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, and live in the community (meaning not in a hospital setting). They also need to weigh 220 pounds of less and have a study partner, like a spouse or friend, who can come to appointments.
For more information on the NOBLE study, visit noblestudy.org.