Both Ben Poore and his caregiver, Vicki Selvaggio, are grateful for Southern Illinois University School of Medicine's Alzheimer's disease center in Springfield.
Because of the 23-year-old center, patients like Poore can enter clinical trials of cutting-edge medicines that researchers hope will slow the progression of a degenerative brain disease that affects more than 5.3 million Americans and almost 5,000 people in Sangamon County.
"I want to be healthy, wealthy and wise," said Poore, 72, a retired truck driver who lives at Bickford Senior Living, an assisted-living center on Springfield's west side. "I sure want my brain working good."
Every 12 weeks, he receives intravenous infusions of bapineuzumab (pronounced bap-in-NEWS-uh-mab), a drug being tested in clinical trials with about 5,000 Alzheimer's patients worldwide.
Six weeks after each infusion, he undergoes a magnetic-resonance imaging scan of his brain to make sure the drug isn't causing bleeding or other complications.
"He's been a real trouper about the whole thing," said Selvaggio, 44, who met Poore when she was an 18-year-old Maverick Steakhouse waitress and he was a customer.
She kept in touch with him over the years as she became a flight attendant, got married, then landed her current job as a service coordinator at Springfield's Capitol Retirement Village. With her husband's support, she agreed to take charge of Poore's affairs when symptoms of dementia began to emerge four years ago.
She now considers Poore part of her family. Poore, who is divorced with no relatives in the area, said he adores Selvaggio and her 11-year-old daughter.
Selvaggio said she is glad to have local experts available on the care of people with dementia, as well as the option of a clinical trial for Poore.
"Ben said, 'If this doesn't help me, it will help someone else,'" Selvaggio said.
It's unknown yet whether bapineuzumab, one of several drugs that have been tested over the years as a potential treatment for Alzheimer's, will be the first one proven to delay the progression of the disease.
The Alzheimer's center, with 35 sites in a central and southern Illinois outreach network, deals in both high-tech and low-tech care.
With one of the most organized and advanced rural networks in the country, SIU's Center for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders trains and offers support to nurses, social workers and others employed by hospitals, social-service agencies and organizations throughout downstate Illinois.
"We are very rare," said Greg Kyrouac, the center's director of education and outreach programs.
Professionals trained by the center spend hours helping patients, families and small-town primary care doctors with the task of diagnosing dementia and other memory-related problems.
Patients and families receive recommendations for coping strategies, care plans and prescriptions without having to travel to Springfield, Chicago and other regional medical centers.
The center "has been wonderful for us as far as education," said Orlinda Workman, a social worker who is director of psychiatric and social services at Passavant Area Hospital in Jacksonville. "It's been great for our community."
The center receives about $3.3 million annually from the state. Half of the state's cost is reimbursed by the federal government.
SIU researchers in Springfield and Carbondale also receive $3.8 million in grants from public and private sources, including the National Institutes of Health, for projects involving Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.
New drugs available
Without the center, which serves more than 2,000 patients a year, that care and counseling would be offered later in life or not at all, said Dr. Tom Ala, a neurologist who is the center's interim director.
Alzheimer's can't be conclusively diagnosed while a patient is alive, he said. An autopsy examination of the brain is necessary.
But interviews with relatives, cognitive tests of patients and other assessments can rule out other problems and make Alzheimer's the likely culprit, Kyrouac said.
Problems other than Alzheimer's that are causing memory problems or confusion can be identified and rectified. For example, Ala said too much blood-pressure medicine or other drugs can cause Alzheimer's-like symptoms.
Dosages can be changed or a new drug substituted, which can reduce or eliminate the problem, he said.
A correct diagnosis of dementia can give a patient access to several drugs now on the market - sold under the brand names Aricept, Razadyne, Exelon and Namenda - to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's, Ala said.
"They may help the patient function better, but they don't really stop the underlying disease or slow the progression," he said. "In a sense, they do delay the development of severe symptoms and may delay placement in a nursing home. But the underlying disease is still cooking away."
Counseling and education can help relatives better understand a loved one's plight and how it affects communication and interactions, Kyrouac said. This understanding can avoid frustration by patients and their families.
The patient "may have been a son of a gun before, but now it's this disease process that's involved," Kyrouac said.
SIU School of Medicine's Center for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders
Founded in 1987
Serves: 93 counties and operates 35 network sites throughout downstate Illinois, including SIU's Memory and Aging Clinic in Springfield. The network is made up of physicians, nurses, other health professionals and nursing home staff members who are trained to identify Alzheimer's disease and related disorders.
The center can be reached at (800) 342-5748 or www.siumed.edu/alz
Network sites in central Illinois include:
*Springfield, where the contact is Ann Popovich at the SIU School of Medicine Memory and Aging Clinic, (217) 545-7189.
*Hillsboro, where the contact is Becky Durbin at the Montgomery County Health Department, (217) 532-2001.
*Jacksonville, where the contact is Orlinda Workman at Passavant Area Hospital, (217) 245-9541, ext. 3006.
*Galesburg, where the contact is Gloria Koch at Cottage Neuroscience, (309) 342-7002.
*Peoria, where the contacts are Jackie Bowers at the Institute of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, (309) 495-4530; Tanya Hofmann at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, (309) 683-5429.
*Normal, where the contact is Tami Livingston at Advocate BroMenn Family Health Clinic, (309) 268-3761.
*Pontiac, where the contact is Lynn Todd at Evenglow Inn, (815) 842-9040.
*Quincy, where the contact is Eric Schultz at Blessing Hospital, (217) 224-4453.
Top Photo: Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register -- Ben Poore is enrolled in a nationwide clinical trial for a new drug believed to slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, administered locally through the SIU School of Medicine's Center for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders. His caregiver is Vicki Selvaggio.
Second Photo: Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register -- Dr. Tom Ala, a neurologist and the interim director of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Alzheimer's disease center, conducts a memory test with Mattilou Catchpole, 87, whom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, during a doctor's visit at the Memory and Neurology Clinic in the SIU Clinics building in Springfield, Ill., Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010.