UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging Boasts Two Decades of Accomplishment

By Ben Boulden

Like many things that grow, however, it started with a bare patch of ground, hope, ambition and large dose of generosity. The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation in 1997 awarded UAMS a $28.8 million grant: $10.5 million to establish a Department of Geriatrics in the College of Medicine and $18.3 million to construct a building to be its new home.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada, it has committed more than $99 million to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, most of it to the Reynolds Institute.

Larry Alman, left, speaks to a gathering of Reynolds Institute staff, donors and former employees at the celebration while Wei applauds his remarks.

Building Care

By September 2000, UAMS and the Reynolds Center on Aging (renamed the Reynolds Institute on Aging in 2005) were ready to dedicate the four-story building containing educational space on the first floor, clinical space on the second floor, and clinical research and basic science  on the third and fourth floors, respectively.

The next year the institute began to open a statewide network of seven regional Centers on Aging to help care for the growing number of older Arkansans. Through local clinical partners, seniors have had over 194,000 primary care visits since 2006. Although the education numbers aren’t available from the first few years of operation, since 2005 the centers’ educational programs have reached about 55,000 health professionals, 420,000 community residents and 21,000 students.

In June 2009, the Reynolds Foundation announced another generous gift: $33.4 million in grants to the Reynolds Institute to add another four floors on top of the existing four. Additional grant funds from the Reynolds Foundation enabled the replication of the Schmieding Home Caregiver Training Program, developed in the Schmieding Center for Senior Health and Education in Springdale, to be offered in our regional Centers on Aging, in Jonesboro, Pine Bluff, Texarkana, El Dorado, Fort Smith, Pine Bluff, Texarkana, and West Memphis.

On Dec. 14, on the first floor of its award-winning home, friends of the Reynolds Institute commemorated its milestone anniversary. Jeanne Wei, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the institute, and Larry Alman, chairman of the institute’s community advisory board, spoke before a lunch reception for donors, faculty, staff, and students.

Expanding Care

Providing patient care has been at the heart of the institute’s mission from the beginning and its commitment only has deepened in past two decades.

The Pat and Willard Walker Family Memory Research Center opened in 2005, funded by a $5 million grant from the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation of Springdale and a matching amount from the Reynolds Foundation.

“Willard was fortunate to have been diagnosed relatively early in the course of Alzheimer’s disease,” Debbie Walker, the former Walker Foundation executive director, said at the time. “With that diagnosis came medications that helped to manage the disease, giving family and friends extra days, months and years to share his laughter. Our family felt empowered by what we received from this department, knowing we could give Willard the best quality of life for each stage of his illness.”

Celebrants at the anniversary reception enjoy lunch, conversation and a slide show of images illustrating the history of the institute.

The Walker Memory Center continues to serve patients and families in similar ways, responding to their concerns and needs regarding changes in memory, thinking and behavior. Its evaluations and interventions reflect the latest strategies to improve or maintain cognitive and functional abilities, delay decline and promote well-being and quality of life.

Just as Willard Walker and his family benefitted from the care he received through the Reynolds Institute, so, too, did Henry Thomas and his family.

“My father Henry Thomas died at the age of 93, and was under the expert care of geriatricians at the Reynolds Institute,” said Jane Thomas Lyon in 2007. “I am forever grateful that this wellness-based care was available for him and will be available for each of us.” Frank Lyon’s parents also benefitted from Reynolds programs.

Jane and Frank Lyon gave $2.5 million to the Reynolds Institute for an endowment fund to support what was then the Senior Health Center at the institute and it was renamed the Thomas and Lyon Longevity Clinic.

At the clinic in the Reynolds Institute, seniors for many years have enjoyed a one-stop place where they can receive most of their primary and specialty care. It is the largest primary care clinic in Arkansas for seniors. Endowment income supports clinical activities including a frailty and physical disabilities clinic, a caregiver support program and a special behavioral problems clinic.

The Ottenheimer Fitness Center at the institute offers adults age 50 and older a variety of exercise equipment for strength training and cardiovascular exercise, as well as multiple fitness and balance training programs.

Teaching Care

Postgraduate education of resident physicians and research fellows at the Reynolds Institute helps ensure that future geriatricians, primary care providers and scientists have the skills to provide care and to find new treatments.

The Reynolds Institute has always worked to educate clinicians. Since the beginning of the Department, geriatricians and nurses have been providing services to patients in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and in the homes of patients who can’t easily make it to an office or clinic. Medical students, fellows, and residents accompany the clinicians on these patient visits to gain a broader understanding of the nuances of caring for seniors in these residential settings.

From family members of seniors to the local first responders around the state, several institute programs seek to educate the broader public about senior health and improving care to older Arkansans.

At eight training sites around Arkansas, the Schmieding Home Caregiver Training Program provides education and skills training to family members and future professional caregivers of older adults living in their homes, thus allowing older adults to have the choice to stay in their homes.

The institute’s Schmieding program has been so successful that in several states, initiatives have begun to duplicate the program.

The Arkansas Geriatric Education Collaborative since 1997 has provided geriatric training to health care professionals, and more recently, to lay caregivers, direct care workers and first responders.

Improving Care

Among the main goals of the Arkansas Claude Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at the Reynolds Institute is the training of new geriatricians and gerontologists to find the answers that will result in the continued independence and improved function of older Arkansans.

In 2011, the institute received a $5.5 million grant from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health to fund the Pepper Center. Its research focus is on developing new interventions for the maintenance of functional independence and the prevention and treatment of skeletal and heart muscle weakness.

A major research focus of the Institute is neurogenerative diseases, especially Alzheimer’s and other dementias, for which a five year NIH grant award of $10.6 million was recently received.

The translational research center focuses on frailty prevention, specifically on the maintenance of muscle function and strength in seniors. Cardiovascular aging, including molecular changes in the heart, is another research focus of the Institute. The Institute also recently received an NIH award that’s focused on reducing health outcomes disparity among older Arkansans.

Dozens of Reynolds Institute researchers have worked to improve our understanding about what affects senior health and how to improve their lives, studying diverse areas such as senior nutrition, cardiovascular health, Alzheimer’s disease, in-home long-term care, the genetics of aging, reducing fall risk and visual impairment.

Arkansas has the 10th highest percentage in the nation of people who are 65 or older. By 2030, 26.1 percent will be 60 or older and will almost equal the number of children in the state. That demographic trend presents a host of challenges and opportunities, including access to dementia care and nutritional health programs, and reaching greater numbers of older Arkansans in remote, isolated rural areas.

“Because the Reynolds Institute for 20 years has provided care, educated health care professionals and conducted the research for developing new treatments and cures, and will continue to do those things, Arkansas is in a better position to meet those challenges than almost any other state,” Wei said. “We’re ready to embrace and assist our beloved older Arkansans and their families! Special thanks go out to our many visionary leaders and very generous communities”.