MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — One of the few places in the country developing new treatments for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is in the Twin Cities.
And those researchers and doctors now work under one roof for the first time.
HealthPartners opened the doors to its new Neuroscience Center in St. Paul this spring.
Every detail was designed with the patient in mind.
WCCO has followed one of those patients for more than two years. Dr. Paul Quinn is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
He always comes across somewhat hopeful in his assessment of his condition.
“I can’t notice a significant difference,” Paul Quinn said.
He been confronting what’s called mild cognitive impairment (MCI) for the last three years.
Quinn and his wife, Peg, will soon learn the results of his annual cognitive review. They are seeing if his diagnosis has changed; if his memory disorder has fully developed into Alzheimer’s disease.
That news will be delivered to the Quinns for the first time inside a one-of-a-kind medical center in the Midwest, which is expected to serve 50,000 patients a year.
The $75-million, 130,000-square-feet center focuses solely on brain and spine conditions.
There are finishes to help dementia patients feel more comfortable, like large exam rooms and an open floor plan.
Locations are marked with something other than numbers, which can be hard for patients to recall.
“They suggested we have two ways of remembering, so we did a color and a letter at each neighborhood,” said Business Systems Supervisor Heather Engebretson.
But the biggest breakthroughs happen in the basement, where Senior Research Director William Frey is on the front lines of testing medicine.
“Here we are testing a number of treatments for brain disorders,” Dr. Frey said.
One of the potential treatments is a nasal spray that injects insulin into the brain.
“The things we discover here, like our nasal insulin treatment that improves memory in people with Alzheimer’s, is actually in human clinical trials on the third floor of this very building,” Dr. Frey said.
Quinn is part of another clinical trial developed by the same team that involves taking a pill a day.
It is part of a routine that, for the most part, he still keeps up himself.
“Every day we wake up and we’re both still there and we just keep on keeping on,” Peg Quinn said.
She has noticed a significant change in her 78-year-old husband since his diagnosis. Details in stories from the past now have slight changes, like when we ask Paul about the time he met Peg in 1961.
“Then this gal comes in she’s got a green, stylish rain coat and she has a hat on, too,” he said.
His wife says she had never heard those details before.
Subtle changes to Paul’s long-term memory worry his family since his short-term memory is barely there, even when it comes to relative’s names.
Half the patients with MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia within five years of the diagnosis.
Dr. Michael Rosenbloom tells Paul that his function is good overall, since he’s still able to do things like cook and drive.
“You were having problems naming things, but it wasn’t enough to shift things dramatically,” Dr. Rosenbloom said. “I think you’re more or less stable with a little bit worsening. I would still call this mild cognitive impairment based on what you’re telling me. I think this is not a bad result. If I were in your shoes, I’d be happy to hear this.”
Dr. Rosenbloom says it is those functions that determines whether or not patients like Paul have MCI or Alzheimer’s.
It is the question that keeps the Quinns planning for the future, yet focused on living each day.
“Keep on keeping on as long as you can,” Peg Quinn said.
Dr. Rosenbloom did recommend that Paul and others with memory problems use brain-training game. Many can be found online.
He also says exercise is extremely important. Studies have shown even a half hour of aerobic activity, three times a week, can be as effective as medication in some patients.