Hebrew SeniorLife and Harvard University joined with NBC correspondent and former “Today” show host Meredith Vieira to present the first annual Harvard Alzheimer’s Symposium on Saturday, September 28 in recognition of the Harvard College Alzheimer’s Buddies program.
The unique and innovative Harvard College Alzheimer’s Buddies program matches Harvard students with dementia patients at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Roslindale campus for weekly one-on-one visits that help combat the isolation of their disease.
“The Harvard Alzheimer’s Symposium is not just an effort to raise awareness, but also an effort to turn that awareness into an active contribution in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease,” Vieira said.
The symposium attracted a range of speakers, including Mary Moscato, President of HSL Health Care Services and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. Moscato spoke of the coming changes with the Affordable Care Act and the opportunity it presents for the improved coordination care for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
“The new Medicare Accountable Care Organization model will result in more coordinated care across multiple settings, better patient-centered care and decision making, meeting quality performance standards and providing the patient with the right level of care at the right time without over- or under-treating,” said Moscato.
Hebrew SeniorLife’s Dr. Ruth Kandel presented a current overview of Alzheimer’s disease and its implications for American families and health care system. According to Dr. Kandel, who is also a Harvard Medical School professor, Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting about 5.4 million Americans, or one in nine elderly people.
In her opening remarks, Vieira spoke movingly about both her father and brother who were inflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. Her brother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s when he was in his early 50s, one of over 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. “I would have loved it if my brother Steve could have benefitted from this program,” Vieira said.
Vieira recently visited Hebrew Rehabilitation Center to tape a segment featuring the Alzheimer’s Buddies for her upcoming talk show debuting on NBC in September 2014. “These personal and deeply involving friendships and the attractions between the students and patients are wonderful to watch,” she said.
Recent Harvard graduate Ryan R. Christ helped expand the program to include 40 Harvard students today and spoke about motivating other students to join the program. “I want other Harvard Students to know what it feels like to be a hero for someone else,” Christ said. “You might not wear a flashy jetpack, but with a little courage, you’ll be surprised by how far your smile will go.”
“I would like to continue to help get the word out on spreading this model to other campuses and stay involved because it’s clear to me that these relationships change these students positively and permanently,” said Vieira.
Speaker Jeffrey Robbins, a clinical social worker and Harvard teaching associate, said that this program should be part of every Alzheimer’s community in the country. “When a family tours an Alzheimer’s community in the future, the question from every family should be: ‘Do you have an Alzheimer’s Buddies program?’“