Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in South Dakota. And families who experience it say it's like losing a loved one twice.
They struggle watching a family member gradually forget things. But a new strategy is providing hope.
The government plans to spend millions of dollars to find effective ways to treat the mind-destroying disease and the treatment would impact many people in KELOLAND.
The Heck family of Sioux Falls enjoys bonding over a deck of cards. Shanghai is the game of choice.
"Donating money to grandmother over there; she's usually the winner," Jon Heck said.
The game provides some laughs and relaxation. But in life, the Heck family knows all too well that you can be dealt a difficult hand.
"It's been kind of a sad experience with seeing the way he is," Jon said.
Jon's father Marvin was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease around five years ago. While his mind is still fresh enough to enjoy a hand of cards, Marvin struggles to remember. And his family has had to move him into an assisted living facility.
"Dad has always been really active and really sharp. So it was kind of an adjustment for us. We just have to do things a little bit differently with him as far as everyday things; you know, plan stuff out," Jon said.
"He's definitely really important. He comes to all my track and cross country meets and I really appreciate it," Marvin's granddaughter Kari Heck said.
Now the state track champion is giving back to her grandpa by holding a fundraiser for Alzheimer's research this month. Kari hopes the event goes well. But she's also optimistic about the government's new plan to test an Alzheimer's prevention drug in Columbia.
Doctor William Fuller with the Avera Research Institute has been working with two drugs similar to the drug being used in the study. The test in Columbia involves a family in which nearly everyone develops Alzheimer's.
"This study is very interesting because they're trying to get some of the very high-risk people in the U.S. earlier in the progression of the disease before the disease has done a tremendous amount of damage," Fuller said.
Dr. William Fuller says the new study is great because it's difficult to find a large group of people with early signs of Alzheimer's to test a drug.
"If they come up with something that really delays the onset of this or improves it significantly, it will make a big difference because there will be people who can be productive, an asset to a family, rather than a burden for a family," Fuller said.
The Hecks are betting the study is too late for Marvin. But it might not be for other family members.
"Dad has six other siblings and three of them have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Generations to follow from here with this research would mean a lot," Jon said.
But for now they're just enjoying a game of cards with their father and grandfather while they can.
For more information on Alzheimer's and clinical trials in our area, check out the Alzheimer's Association website at www.alz.org or by calling the toll-free number, 800.272.3900.
For more information on the $100 million study and the government's plan to fight Alzheimer's, you can read the National Plan To Address Alzheimer's Disease.