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CNY Researchers Study Agitation Symptoms In Alzheimer's Patients

Earlier this week a new drug was approved that can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease … and local researchers and advocates called it a victory in fighting the condition.  An East Syracuse organization is doing separate research on a disturbing aspect of Alzheimer’s that troubles many families and caregivers. 

Clarity Clinical Research Site director Lisa Sonneborn says up to 70% of patients show some level of agitation along with the disease’s normal symptoms.

"If people are diagnosed and continue to experience worsening of their memory, they may start verbal aggression, even towards people they love and care about.  They could be cursing, they could be complaining constantly or aggressively.  It can even manifest into physical agitation, physically aggressive with their caregivers and family."

Sonneborn says patients have been given anti-psychotic drugs, that aren’t appropriate for the symptoms or for the elderly.  Clarity is examining new treatments that she hopes can ease conditions that make caring for someone with Alzheimer’s even more trying.

"One of the most heartbreaking things for family members if someone is already suffering with this disease is to see things like changes in personality or physical aggression, or severe anxiety. You already see someone suffering, and you're wondering why this is layered on top of it. It does normalize it when we talk to our caregivers to let them understand that this isn’t uncommon.”

Whether it’s treatment for the agitation symptoms – or the new drug to slow progression of the disease, Sonneborn notes every patient is different. 

"It's not a one size fits all from the standpoint of where someone might be in the disease process.  But a lot of the medications that are being looked at now are more or less effective depending on the stage of the disease.  In the case of our agitation study, you really wouldn't want to use this symptomatic medication for someone who doesn't have symptoms of agitation.”

She describes treating Alzheimer’s and finding new therapies like a puzzle.  Researchers and doctors try to figure out what can lead to a long and healthier life, given each patient’s individual symptoms and progression of the disease. 

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.