Local family makes Alzheimer's break through possible

The donation of the Luvaas family caused research progress at OHSU.

Posted: May 1, 2018 5:21 PM
Updated: May 2, 2018 9:50 AM

Ore. - With the help of a local family, the Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland is now able to detect Alzheimer’s in a patient’s brain sooner than ever.

The Luvaas family is known in Eugene for starting the Central Lutheran Church and the law firm, Luvaas Cobb. They’re also a family that’s suffered greatly from the Alzheimer’s disease, and after yet another death in the family, Kris Luvaas decided it was time to take action.

Learn more about Alzheimer's here

"I've been thinking about this. This family needs to do something, because my father and six of his siblings, so seven Luvaas children, died of the disease, and you know, it's just been in our face for decades now," said Kris Luvaas, the organizer of the donation.

The family gave $200,000 to the OHSU Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Center. With that donation, researchers were able to develop a revolutionary technique that allows detection earlier than ever before. They take brain scans of the patients and are then able to pair those scans with real-world data from the same people.

Experts said this early detection is helpful, because it allows more research to be conducted in the earliest stages of the disease, and because it allows treatment that may be able to delay the later and more severe stages. However, it still leaves the question unanswered of how do they best treat the early stages in an attempt to prevent the later ones?

"Pet scans, and MRIs, and the blood tests that we're working on to diagnose...we still haven't figure out what to do after we get there," said Liz von Wellsheim, a geriatric nurse with Elderhealth & Living. "Like what are we really, really going to do?"

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes irreversible degeneration of the brain, and it takes with it the person’s thinking skills and memories. Nearly 6 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, and even more are affected because for every patient there is a family and caregivers suffering too.

"Most families, when they have somebody that is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it changes the whole family," said von Wellsheim.

Kris said this won’t be the end of the Luvaas’ involvement with Alzheimer’s research. Next up, she said she and her family will be visiting the lab to learn all they can and talk about what the next steps will be. She said she knows there’s a long road ahead, but she wants to be there for every step of it.

"We just need to get to the bottom of this, and we need to get there rapidly. It's going to cost society way more than we can possibly predict," said Luvaas.

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