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Providing hope, quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s

Published Date:

Sitting at a table holding a mask, a man carefully examined its two very different sides. Both the front and back were painted by his brush, but held two meanings. The outside represented how others saw him, a husband, grandfather, friend or neighbor – someone they knew but also wholly unfamiliar.

On the inside was how he saw himself, someone struggling with dementia.

Art Express is one of many programs at the Smith Alzheimer’s Center at SIU Medicine designed to help those with dementia and their caregivers improve their quality of life. A person with dementia may not be able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings as well as earlier in life, but can express themselves better through the calm and creative outlet of art. Thanks to donations from individual donors and organizations, this weekly class and other Smith Alzheimer’s Center outreach programs are provided at no cost.

More than 1 in 9 people over the age of 65 (~6.7 million) currently live with Alzheimer’s in the United States. Adding to that impact are family caregivers (~11.4 million) providing unpaid care, often 24/7 and always adjusting based on the person with dementia’s new needs. More than half of all caregivers report high levels of stress. Care for caregivers is just as important as they help ensure the safety and stability of loved ones.

“[The programs] feel like a lifeline for us… I can’t imagine life without this,” one caregiver remarked. While programs such as Art Express are designed to improve quality of life for those with dementia through evidence-based activities, brain games, exercise, music and more, they also provide an outlet for caregivers to connect with others or have respite. Donations not only cover costs like paint and a mask for that week’s art project, but other materials, lunch and professional staff who make these programs a new community for those with dementia.

Through the Smith Alzheimer’s Center, care comes in the form of the clinic itself, and the community outreach programs. But pushing toward a cure through world-class research in the neuroscience research labs and through clinical trials is how the Center is addressing the disease head on.

Pairing private contributions with research grants is a powerful combination in pursuing better treatments. Cutting-edge tools allow more precise and in-depth research for the lab team to reach that next level of exploration.

For instance, the Smith Alzheimer’s Center labs recently acquired a laser microdissection tool that allows researchers to identify particular cells and quickly isolate them for study. This state-of-the-art equipment enhances the lab’s ability to do highly-technical work and answer complicated questions more quickly.

This level of sophistication is typically reserved only for Alzheimer’s disease research centers in major metro areas. But with the Smith Alzheimer’s Center’s lab team working with the grant backing of premier federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health, the work done right here in central Illinois is pushing the global conversation surrounding Alzheimer’s treatment.

The Smith Alzheimer’s Center is committed to ensuring care for all of those who are impacted by Alzheimer’s or related dementias. Exceptional clinical care, community-building programs and innovative research have put the Smith Alzheimer’s Center at SIU Medicine on the map. Donors like you can help us reach further so that our community can thrive as we work to end Alzheimer’s.

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