MAY 10, 2005 | Families struggling to care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can now get help through the generosity of another Arkansas family.


 


The Pat and Willard Walker Family Memory Research Center was dedicated April 27 at the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).


 


The UAMS Memory Research Center was established in 2001, but the center was renamed in recognition of a $5 million gift from the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, matched by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. The gift will be used as an endowment fund to expand and intensify UAMS’ studies on Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders. The original center was one of only 29 nationwide developed with grants from the National Institute on Aging.


 


“We in Arkansas are the beneficiaries of this wonderful facility,” Frank Broyles, athletic director for the University of Arkansas, said of the donation and the work that will be accomplished through it. “The Walker family is known by how much they care, rather than caring how much they are known.”


 


Broyles, whose wife, Barbara, died of Alzheimer’s disease in October 2004, has been an advocate for continued research on the disease, and is actively supporting the Ronald Reagan Alzheimer’s Breakthrough Act of 2005 currently before Congress. He recently helped persuade the state Legislature to pass a bill, known as “Barbara’s Bill” requiring 15 hours of additional training on Alzheimer’s disease for certified nursing assistants working in nursing homes.


 


Since he began speaking publicly about his family’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, Broyles said, he has received numerous letters from other families concerning the need for better caregiver support and education. He said 98 percent of the messages ask him to support educating caregivers on how to help their family members live a better quality of life.


 


“That‘s what this gift is going to do,” Broyles said.


 


Cornelia Beck, R.N., Ph.D., director of the Memory Research Center, said the gifts from the Walker and Reynolds Foundations came “just in the nick of time.” Beck also is a professor in the departments of Geriatrics, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the UAMS College of Medicine and professor in the College of Nursing.


 


Beck said the institute had a list of about 80 caregivers to attend a stress-reducing class, but didn’t have the funding to provide the course. About 75 percent of all caregivers for Alzheimer’s patients are family members, and Beck said the physical and psychological demands, along with the realization that they are losing their loved one, can be extremely stressful.


 


“Alzheimer’s is always a family affair,” Beck said, “and it is fitting that our research center is named for the Walker family,”


 


“You have set a shining example of how to be and how to live,” David Lipschitz, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Institute on Aging, said to Pat Walker. “I for one have learned from you in more ways than I ever could have thought possible.”


 


Lipschitz recalled the years he spent with the Walker family caring for Willard Walker and helping them to provide him the best care as his Alzheimer’s disease progressed. He said the entire family dealt with his illness with dignity and grace.


 


Debbie Walker, daughter-in-law to Pat Walker and executive director of the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, said the family found the expansion of the Memory Research Center to be a “perfect fit.” She said Willard Walker was fortunate to have an early diagnosis of his Alzheimer’s disease, and that the care he received at the Institute on Aging added extra days, months and possibly years to his life.


 


“Our family felt empowered that we could give him the best quality of life for each stage he went through,” Debbie Walker said. “Our hope is that this facility can give that to other families. It is our pleasure for our family to be a part of this today.”


 


The center combines patient care with research to provide the most up-to-date treatment available. Currently, one-fourth of patients followed by the Reynolds Department of Geriatrics have some form of memory loss.


 


Current clinical research, which involves working directly with patients, includes promoting functional independence, dealing with problem behaviors, promoting sleep, the use of community-based services by caregivers and persons with dementia, and measuring outcomes of services for persons with dementia.


 


Other basic science research at UAMS on Alzheimer’s disease has discovered a link between proteins secreted by cells that control inflammation and the increased probability of onset of Alzheimer’s disease. This is seen as a significant breakthrough in the early detection and treatment of Alzheimer’s.


 


The donations from the Walker family and Reynolds Foundation will allow the center to develop educational programs to caregivers of people with cognitive disorders. Plans include creating a model program that can be replicated at each of the seven satellite Centers on Aging statewide. The program will incorporate educational sessions and printed materials, stress reduction courses, training courses for chaplains and coordination of an annual telecast conference for caregivers.


 
Links on This Page

Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging:
http://centeronaging.uams.edu/


Donald W. Reynolds Foundation: http://www.dwreynolds.org/


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