While Marian Breitschopf remembers her doctors' face, her husband says she struggles to hold on to simple short-term memory function.
"She'll be looking at something at one point, and set it down and forget where she set the thing. Little short-term things like that became progressive worse," said Marian's husband Ken Brietschopf.
Marian enrolled in a clinical trial being conducted by San Francisco neurologist Dr. Jerome Goldstein.
She's now receiving one of a new class of experimental drugs that could for the first time hold the hope of slowing down the progression of her disease.
Instead of treating symptoms, Dr. Goldstein says the drugs target root causes of Alzheimer's deep in the brain.
"There are two things going on in Alzheimer's disease: development of plaques and neurofubrular tangles and those two things are very prominent at autopsy," said Dr. Goldstein.
One drug, "Rember" targets the tangles, the abnormal proteins that deform brain cells.
The other, "Bapineuzumab," which Marian takes, triggers the immune system to attack beta amyloid plaques, which coat the brain cells of /*Alzheimer's*/ patients.
Early results showed signs the drugs were slowing the deterioration of memory function.
"The other excitement that we're seeing with these medications and new avenues of treatment that we're seeing reduced amounts of plaques and perhaps to tangles," said Dr. Goldstein.
Bapineuzumab is administered intravenously. Patients in the trial also undergo hours of testing, to gather as much data as possible about their memory function.
Many researchers believe several of these new drugs could ultimately be used in combination if trial results continue to be encouraging.
"We're always looking for a magic bullet in medicine," said Dr. Goldstein.
And while the final outcome could still be several years away, pioneering patients like Marian are receiving what appears to be at least an initial benefit right now, in fighting a disease of the memory, where just not losing equals winning.
"I think it's a great help. It has perhaps could have been very disastrous without it," said Brietschopf.
The trial is going on in 200 locations across the country. It is for men, women 50-88 years of age, diagnosed with probably Alzheimer's.