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Emory, Bank of America and U.S. Trust team up against Alzheimer's disease

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Participating in the Health and Wealth Symposium were (l-r) Jaye Watson, Allan Levey, Sharon Bergquist, Bill Hamlet, Alister Bazaz, and Doug Shipman (not pictured).

Even in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, most people are incapable of managing their financial affairs. This complication can wreak havoc on family finances and add stress to an already difficult journey. 

To underscore the value of financial planning for families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, the Emory Brain Health Center teamed up with Bank of America and U.S. Trust to host a Health and Wealth Symposium in January 2018. Held in the Galleria at Atlanta’s Woodruff Arts Center, the event was presented by the Emory Office of Corporate Relations, which connects leading Emory faculty members with companies seeking to create positive change in the world.

“Pulling together Emory’s strengths in brain health and the trusted knowledge of Bank of America/U.S. Trust, one of our most valued corporate partners, was a perfect collaboration for this forum,” said Tarsha Calloway, Emory’s executive director of corporate relations. “The power of university-industry partnerships fosters opportunities for real-world resolutions to some of this country’s most pressing health concerns.” 

The symposium included a moving personal video showing one family’s struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, a panel discussion with experts from each institution, and an audience of more than 80 leaders from Atlanta’s philanthropic community.

The panel discussion was moderated by former broadcast journalist Jaye Watson, director of brand awareness and outreach for the Emory Brain Health Center. Panelists were Allan Levey, MD, PhD, director of the Emory Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Betty Gage Holland Professor and Chair of Neurology; Sharon Bergquist, MD, a Rollins Distinguished Clinician in Emory’s Division of General Medicine and Geriatrics; and Emory alumnus Bill Hamlet, a member of the Emory Gift Planning Advisory Council and a wealth strategies adviser with U.S. Trust, which is Bank of America’s private wealth management arm.

Emory alumnus Doug Shipman, CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, set the stage for the event by highlighting some of the High Museum’s partnerships that harness the power of art and music to help diagnose and manage memory loss. One Emory collaboration, for example, has used the museum’s digital art collection to develop a screening device that measures memory.

The video shown at the event, produced and written by Watson, featured the personal story of Alister Bazaz, head of international asset-based lending for Bank of America Business Capital, and his family. His wife, Cecile, a former banking executive and Emory alumna, began having symptoms of Alzheimer’s in her late 40s. Normally a disease of older adults, Alzheimer’s affects people under age 65 in about 5 percent of cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The Bazaz family has worked to keep Cecile socially engaged and as healthy as possible while dealing with the disease. They’ve been able to navigate this difficult path with help from the Emory Brain Health Center, a flexible work schedule at Bank of America, and guidance from a knowledgeable financial adviser. U.S. Trust helps families plan for the financial challenges that often accompany serious illnesses.

The cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to reach $259 billion in the United States this year, and much of that expense will fall to family caregivers like Bazaz and his daughter, Kathleen. Last year alone, American families provided more than 18 billion hours of care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s—at an estimated value of $230 billion.

“The numbers are incredibly horrific, and no family in the world would be prepared for the financial challenge of Alzheimer’s disease if it came out of the blue,” Bazaz said. “We were lucky there is expert advice available in Atlanta and that the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center is at Emory. We are blessed to have them here.”

Along with the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Emory’s resources for families dealing with Alzheimer’s include the Integrated Memory Care Clinic, a nationally recognized “medical home” for people living with dementia made possible by philanthropist Lou Brown Jewell. Both of these resources are part of the Emory Brain Health Center, which provides comprehensive patient care—guided by advanced research—and trains health care professionals to be leaders in brain health. The center is powered by more than 400 researchers and clinicians from diverse disciplines throughout Emory Healthcare and Emory University.

A centerpiece of the Emory Brain Health Center’s work is the Emory Healthy Aging Study, an ambitious research project supported by the Goizueta Foundation. The study is still in early stages, but it has enrolled more than 16,000 people and collected an estimated 2.5 million data points. Within the study, Emory investigators are conducting four projects exploring changes in the brain and mental health as people age: the Emory Healthy Brain Study, the Emory Brain Imaging Project, a cognitive assessments program, and the Emory Midlife Depression Study.

During the symposium, Drs. Levey and Bergquist shared insights about Emory’s work in Alzheimer’s disease research, treatment, and prevention. Emory researchers are exploring ways to intervene earlier in the disease process, develop more effective medications, and better understand molecular changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Philanthropic investment continues to drive this research forward.

“This is a disease we can conquer,” Dr. Levey said. “We’ve learned more in the past 10 years than we’ve learned in the past 100. I’m extraordinarily optimistic. It’s going to take time, but we’ll have the solution sooner with a greater level of investment.”

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