People in their 30s fighting Alzheimer's may unlock clues for everyone else

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Alzheimer's is a debilitating, degenerative disease with no known cure. (Source: olegdudko via 123R) Alzheimer's is a debilitating, degenerative disease with no known cure. (Source: olegdudko via 123R)
Tyler DeMoe, 27, and members of his family have a particularly rare genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer's. (Source: 3TV) Tyler DeMoe, 27, and members of his family have a particularly rare genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer's. (Source: 3TV)
'We know that we can bully the disease process around. We just don't know which treatment is best and when to apply it,' said Dr. Pierre Tariot of Banner Alzheimer's Institute. (Source: 3TV) 'We know that we can bully the disease process around. We just don't know which treatment is best and when to apply it,' said Dr. Pierre Tariot of Banner Alzheimer's Institute. (Source: 3TV)
'The Inheritance: A Family on the Front Lines of the Battle Against Alzheimer's Disease' is a book based on DeMoe's family tree. (Source: Amazon.com) 'The Inheritance: A Family on the Front Lines of the Battle Against Alzheimer's Disease' is a book based on DeMoe's family tree. (Source: Amazon.com)
Pat and Ron Carmichael (Source: (3TV) Pat and Ron Carmichael (Source: (3TV)
PHOENIX (3TV) -

A local doctor is working on a couple of groundbreaking Alzheimer's studies that could someday give all of us the option of unlocking an early diagnosis to start taking action to possibly delay or prevent this damning disease.

Some 1,000 Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer's every day. That's one about every 69 seconds.  And now, some people are getting it in their early 30s.

Experts say we're not that far off from some real progress.

Tyler DeMoe teaches fifth grade at Palm Lane Elementary in Phoenix. He's passionate and motivated by something you wouldn't suspect.

"I want these kids to learn as much as they possibly can," DeMoe said. "Knowing that I may forget all that I remember, I feel like I work even harder."

His family in North Dakota has a particularly rare genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer's in the 30s.

DeMoe is 27.

[RELATED: Age is just a number: fighting dementia in your 30s & 40s]

"I guess you're never taught how to deal with something like this," DeMoe said.

His dad and all but one of his aunts and uncles have Alzheimer's. Half their kids will get it, and so will half of their kids.

"Out of my family, whoever's been diagnosed with this gene mutation, no one has lived past the age of 60," DeMoe said.

He's been tested but has absolutely no interest in knowing the results.

Dr. Pierre Tariot with Banner Alzheimer's Institute (BAI) says that's perfectly understandable.

[RELATED: Valley hospital offers resources for Alzheimer's patients, families]

"It affects so many aspects of their lives -- whether they're going to date or marry," he explained. "There's the sense that, 'Well, what can I do about it anyway, so let me just live my life.'"

He is working on a study of another family, 3,000 miles away in South America.

"You know, it's this accidental laboratory," he said. "We are treating people as young as age 30 to try and stave off Alzheimer's disease."

A cluster of 300 people from the same family line in Medellin, Columbia have the same genetic mutation as DeMoe's family.

"If we're lucky and we show that we can do it, then that affords hope to everybody who carries these mutations but also some hope for the rest of us," Tariot said.

They are now three years into a five-year study that won a $15 million grant from the National Institute on Aging

"We know that we can bully the disease process around," Tariot said. "We just don't know which treatment is best and when to apply it."

With no cure and no new treatments in more than a decade, the focus now is detection and prevention.

"Millions and millions of people are going to be affected with Alzheimer's unless we do something to put it behind us," Tariot said.

Nearly 275,000 people have signed up for the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry (EndAlzNow.org) that was started here in the Valley through BAI.

About 13 percent of those who've registered have agreed to a genetic test different from DeMoe's.

Doctors are looking for a far more common genetic variant where you have a two out of three chance of developing Alzheimer's later in life.

[RELATED: Healthy people needed for Alzheimer's clinical trials]

"Every adult in the world who wants to know his or her genetic vulnerability for Alzheimer's disease could choose to be tested," Tariot said. "That's not that far off."

We could have answers in four or five years.

"And so that's this drama that's being played out in individual heads and homes all over the world right now," he said

"Are you going to live a normal life? Or are you going to have your time cut short?" DeMoe said.

Ron Carmichael, whose wife of 55 years, Pat, is fighting Alzheimer's, says not so fast.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Life With Alzheimer's]

[SLIDESHOW: Meet the Carmichaels]

"What, because if it says you don't have it, that means what, you have, immortality? No! That just means you're going to die from something else!" Carmichael said.

He says while ignorance may be bliss, it's time to destigmatize Alzheimer's.

His wife has recently seen a dramatic decline, evident on a recent visit with Tariot, who happens to be their specialist.

"And remind me," he asked Pat Carmichael, "you have children?"

Pat looked confused and pointed, "Hmm, it's still there, just that bad little tangle," she said.

Carmichael says "tangle" is a great way to describe how his wife's words and actions often get caught up.

"She forgets how to get a leg into a pant, that kind of stuff," he explained. "She requires prompting on a lot of what are very simple things."

Millions and millions of people are going to be affected with Alzheimer's unless we do something to put it behind us.

He says while nobody welcomes the diagnosis of Alzheimer's, you can live a life with far less frustration and disappointment by simply resetting your expectations.

"When you face things like mortality and acknowledge that there's going to be an end to this life, you have a much different view of life," he said. "You understand its value, and what the good things are.

"People often say they feel sorry for Pat, but you know what, she is enjoying herself," he continued.  "She might not remember what she did today that made her smile tomorrow, but she is happy in the moment and that's what counts."

DeMoe said when he was devastated when his dad was diagnosed.

He remembers his father took it in stride, though, taking his wife to a pediatric cancer ward for a little perspective. The children they visited had yet to fully live their lives but were already fighting a terminal diagnosis.

"Time is something that I do not take for granted," DeMoe said.

"The Inheritance: A Family on the Front Lines of the Battle Against Alzheimer's Disease" is a book based on DeMoe's family tree.

"We opened our lives to share this story," he said.

DeMoe says he'll be ready to see his results once he settles down. For now, he's single and his students are his only kids and he's doing his very best to keep them learning and living in the moment like he is.

"Make the most of all the time that you can that you still have left," DeMoe said.

Since our interview, DeMoe has moved back to North Dakota to be closer to his family.


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Nicole CritesNicole Crites anchors "Good Evening Arizona" weeknights 4 p.m.-6:30 p.m. on 3TV with Brandon Lee.

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Nicole Crites

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