A Visit from the PA House and Senate Aging Committees

Yesterday, the Pennsylvania House of Representative’s Aging and Older Adult Services Committee and the Pennsylvania Senate’s Aging and Youth Committee joined us here at the University of Pennsylvania for a Site Visit of Penn’s Institute on Aging (IOA), Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR), and School of Nursing. The goal of the site visit was not only to inform the Aging Committee about the unique work being done here at Penn to benefit the aging community of Pennsylvania, but also to help them better understand the important need for additional funding towards aging-related research and care, how it can improve upon the current efforts that are already in place, and how it can make future research plans possible.

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The day started with presentations by select representatives from each center and school. Topics included the mission of the IOA and its goal to collaborate with all schools across Penn’s campus, the Penn School of Nursing’s various programs and studies that are conducted on a variety of aging-related issues and therapies, and how different centers within the Perelman School of Medicine such as CNDR, the Udall Center for Parkinson’s Research, Penn’s Alzheimer’s Disease Core Center (ADCC)/Penn Memory Center, and Penn’s FTD (Frontotemporal Degeneration) Center are all working towards combatting the devastating neurodegenerative diseases that most commonly affect the aging community.

More specifically, Penn School of Nursing representative Kathryn H. Bowles, Ph, RN, FAAN, discussed their music therapy program that was developed to help dementia patients regain speech and vocal abilities as well as a program dedicated to helping caregivers better understand why they may witness symptoms of apathy in patients, which is often difficult to comprehend. They are also conducting a study focused on understanding what triggers “fear of falling” in the elderly as well as a unique hospital discharge model to help with decision making on whether or not continued care, such as home care, is in the patients best interest which can lower the rate of readmission.

Dawn Mechanic-Hamilton, Director of Penn Memory Center’s Cognitive Fitness Program also joined us as a presenter. She explained how this program assists those who have been clinically diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) as well as those who personally feel that they are experiencing memory decline to strengthen and/or maintain their cognitive health. The program consists of an 8-week course of two three-hour classes a week that “combine facilitator-led computer-based brain stimulation exercises, compensatory strategies, relaxation education, and supportive coaching” (pennadc.org).

Following several other presentations that focused on the scientific research of detection, treatment, and drug discovery for a variety of neurodegenerative diseases being done at Penn’s CNDR, Udall Center (PD), FTD Center, and ADCC, the members of both committees were led on a tour of the CNDR lab by the director of Drug Discovery at CNDR, Kurt Brunden, PhD. They were able to witness hands-on research of bio samples as well as getting a look at the center’s brain bank where they were able to compare and see for themselves the physical differences between a healthy brain and an Alzheimer’s brain.

The Site Visit concluded with an open discussion on the ways in which the PA House of Representative’s Aging & Older Adult Services committee, the PA Senate’s Aging and Youth committee, and the Penn affiliates can all move forward in their mutual goal of improving the lives of the aging community in Pennsylvania.

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