WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Aging Committee on “Taking Aim at Alzheimer’s: Frontline Perspectives and Caregiver Challenges”, U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Dr. Mark Supiano, Professor and Chief of the Division of Geriatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine and Executive Director at the University of Utah Center on Aging, and Ms. Peg Lahmeyer, the Founder and Executive Director of the ARK, about the expansion of research on Alzheimer’s disease in rural communities and how to better support our caregivers. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: Thank you, this is a really important hearing. My mother-in-law was on the Alzheimer’s spectrum before she passed, and I know firsthand how important everything is, all the work going on, the caregiving that it takes, and what it feels like to be a family member going through this.
Currently, one in nine Nevadans older than 65 live with Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, Nevada also has the 3rd fastest growing dementia population in the United States. To respond to the challenges Alzheimer’s disease is imposing on our state and all around the country, Nevada’s universities and research partners have stepped up in a big way. For example, the UNLV Center for Transformative Neuroscience recently received a $3 million grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which will help them publish their annual review of Alzheimer’s medications in the development stage. Additionally, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas also received a $3 million NIA grant to establish the Nevada Exploratory Alzheimer’s Disease Center, which will help fill in existing research gaps on how people living in rural areas experience Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Supiano, can you talk about how the current lack of research on rural patients living with Alzheimer’s, the challenges they may have getting supportive care to help them treat the disease or cope with it and their family members. How may this impact smaller communities and populations? How do you think the research being conducted in Nevada will inform providers and patients? Of course, this is a really important conversation for all of us.
SUPIANO: Thank you, Senator Rosen. As your neighbor in Utah, I am very familiar with the demographics you described, which are very similar as they are to you in Nevada. Also, the very rural nature of our two states. You raised a very important aspect of needs for research to expand in these areas.
I mentioned earlier in my response to Senator Collins with the support for Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program. One of the things we have been funded to do is reach out across the state to provide education and support for staff in long-term care settings across the state of Utah. This includes an outreach to the Tribal Nations in Utah. There are seven tribes in Utah, an important outreach to Native Americans in addressing the health disparities and their risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The other thing I brought up earlier is the unintended consequential benefits of COVID is our ability to deliver telehealth resources to rural areas has really stepped up in the last year and opened up an opportunity. That carries with it the need and request as I know you would resonate with, and that is to better support broadband access to rural communities. So those telehealth deliveries can be given. The other aspect is support groups, being capable to deliver distant support groups, which we are doing through our GY program in Utah. To disseminate the supports and care that is needed across the state to rural areas is another aspect of research that could be further expanded. It’s a very important issue, and I think as your neighbor, we can work really closely with your investigators at the University of Nevada [Las Vegas] and others to make those advancements.
ROSEN: I look forward to that. I want to add a little bit about respite care and how important it is for those caregivers. Caregiving is a never-ending job; 24/7, and is oftentimes thankless. Finding respite care is burdensome and costly and can be guilty for the family members who feel they need even a weekend off.
I only have a few seconds left of my time. So Ms. Lahmeyer, a lot of caregivers face fatigue and burnout. How do you think expanding access to respite care could help prevent elder abuse and just improve our caregiving?
LAHMEYER: We see so much stress in our caregivers and through our support groups. We are always offering seminars and little workshops on managing stress, also classes that are now at the University of Utah from Oregon.
We see the stress on these caregivers melt away once they find out they can take time to take care of themselves. Just like the oxygen mask on the plane, who do you put it on first? So we really try to educate our caregivers about how they need to take care of themselves. Being able to access vouchers and through our respite coalition or through area agencies. They can take a weekend off and have someone hired or a family member through those vouchers so the caregiver can get a break. Even the four hours that they are here at the Ark, the caregivers see the value, and they feel so relieved. When they pick up their loved one up in the afternoon and see they had a great time and the caregiver has had a break away. That respite time is so important for these caregivers and the education we are able to provide through our workshops.
ROSEN: Thank you all for your work. We all care about our families, parents, and grandparents. We all live better and longer, whether it’s Alzheimer’s or other kinds of chronic diseases that may come along with aging and supporting our families. We all love each other and want to take care of each other it is very important.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.