Jul 1, 2022
Cognitive Aging Research and Education Center
UGA Departments Team-Up to Fight Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a disease that has touched the lives of countless Americans.
There are currently over 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s or related dementia, and by 2050, that number may rise to 16 million.
With this staggering statistic in mind, Drs. Jenay Beer and Lisa Renzi-Hammond at the University of Georgia College of Public Health decided to take a stand.
They wanted to mold a unique center that tackled dementia from all angles—diagnostic, education, support, and training.
The cause also hit close to home for both professors—Renzi-Hammond’s grandmother, Evelyn, and Beer’s grandmother, June, both were diagnosed with dementia.
Their idea and work blossomed into the Cognitive Aging Research and Education (CARE) Center.
“We see dementia differently. That is why we built the CARE Center – a clinical, research, and outreach space where we deliver education on dementia risk reduction, conduct cutting-edge research and provide planning and support for persons with dementia and their care partners,” said Renzi-Hammond.
Beer and Renzi-Hammond recruited members from departments around UGA to bring their expertise to the center—Dr. Bernadette Heckman, director of clinical training in the department of counseling and human development services at the Mary Frances Early College of Education, and Dr. Larry Sweet, director of the Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
Also brought to the team was Dr. Don Scott, Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership’s campus director of geriatrics and palliative care.
Scott serves as the medical director of the CARE Clinic, the clinical arm of the center.
“I have been working with Lisa and Jenay for several years on various projects. They would help me teach some cognitive science in the residency program and I would teach some geriatric medicine principles to their students,” said Scott. “Three years or so ago we began discussing the idea of starting a center that would focus on clinical evaluation, teaching students across the spectrum and research. The basic idea was to improve access to clinical services and advance the field in education and research for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD).”
Scott has been a geriatrician for 30 years and was excited to be part of the center.
“I’ve witnessed firsthand huge and growing problem of ADRD’s in our aging society, and the suffering and toll these diseases take both on the person with the disease and their families. I witnessed the devastation of this disease in my own father and that is no small part of my motivation. My heart goes out to these families,” said Scott.
The CARE Center officially launched in 2019 at the Institute of Gerontology on UGA’s Health Sciences Campus.
The CARE Center will provide both in-person services and eventually telehealth services that include dementia screening, diagnosis, care planning, and community education.
The center also allows for UGA graduate students to assist with penitent assessments. Scott also plans to take medical students from the Medical Partnership to the center.
These faculty members and students from across UGA have teamed up together to provide assessments to 14 patients so far.
“My focus is evaluating the patient’s cognitive status, determining if they have dementia, and, if they do, diagnosing what disease or conditions may be causing their dementia,” said Scott. “As part of this process I perform a thorough medical history and physical exam and often order blood tests and a brain MRI or Brian PET Scan. I then discuss the pros and cons of treatment with the patient and family.”
With support of grants, including one from the National Academy of Medicine, and seed grants from UGA as part of the Rural Engagement Faculty Workshop and Presidential Interdisciplinary Seed Grant programs, they hope to launch a telehealth arm this year and continue building their post-diagnosis support to include more financial, legal, and traditional counseling services.
The center is also looking to incorporate telehealth to address the lack of dementia care in rural areas.
“One reason this center is ground-breaking is that we will be providing diagnosis, education, and resources to persons with dementia and their families where they live through telehealth—targeting the underserved rural areas around the state, through the outreach program,” said Scott. “It is no surprise that access to a specialist for diagnosis and treatment is quite limited. Typical wait times to see a neurologist or geriatrician (if you can find one) are typically six months. So, we hope to improve access to diagnosis and treatment, especially in more rural areas where such access is even more limited and often substantial travel to see a specialist is involved.”
“Rural health care systems often lack the neuroimaging equipment, cognitive testing tools, and advanced laboratory facilities needed to diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s and dementia, so the CARE Center is creating infrastructure and addressing economic barriers to diagnosis,” said Beer.
Scott said the center is hoping to have telehealth up and running by the fall and reach even more patients across Georgia.
“The next step is to implement our evaluation, education, and support services across the state. We are working with the county-based Agricultural Extension Offices and the Archway Partnership at UGA to implement this program at the individual county level in rural areas,” said Scott. “This will allow persons with possible dementia to be evaluated locally through telemedicine visits in their own locales and to receive education, resources. and support services.”
Scott is excited to see the center not only join the fight of this disease, but also spread education to current and future healthcare professionals.
“Alzheimer’s Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., and it is a very chronic and devastating disease, both for the person who has it and their families,” said Scott. “The prevalence of AD is increasing rapidly due to the aging of the population. And this is only AD, there are other forms of age-associated dementias that are rapidly increasing as well. Bringing education to current providers or students—like primary care doctors, medical students, medical residents, social work students, pharmacy students—is a big part of our mission.”
For anyone who like more information or who would like to help support the CARE Center, please contact email@example.com or call (706) 542-2539.