Inside The Senior Alliance: AARP Michigan Overview episode with Lisa Dedden Cooper Part 3 (Ep 1.22)
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This episode is the third of a three-part series on AARP Michigan. In this segment, Jason Maciejewski, CEO of the Senior Alliance, again interviews Lisa Dedden Cooper, Manager of Advocacy at AARP Michigan. In this episode, the subject is brain health and the work AARP of Michigan is doing to support those with forms of dementia. You’ll learn about the Stay Sharp program that AARP has introduced, and the focus AARP has placed on women, who are 2/3 more likely to be diagnosed with dementia and are also 60 percent of caregivers to people with dementia. You can also find out how AARP Michigan supports brain health for everyone in the state.
Jason Maciejewski: (00:00)
Welcome to Inside the Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, CEO of The Senior Alliance, the area agency on aging serving western and southern Wayne County. This is our final episode of a three-part series with AARP of Michigan. And today we’re gonna be exploring brain health initiatives at AARP, and re-joining me is Lisa Dedden Cooper, Manager of Advocacy. Lisa, in our previous episodes, we’ve talked about AARP and the organization’s wide-ranging focus on people age 50 and over and the work that you do on advocacy. Could you give us another overview of what AARP is and the role that the Michigan office plays in the organization?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (00:40)
Yeah. So, AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people age 50 and over to choose how they live as they age. And we’ve got nearly 38 million members nationwide and nearly 1.3 million members here in Michigan. And with our membership, our staff, and our volunteers, we advocate on issues that matter most to people age 50 and over and their families. So, things like healthcare, and financial security, support for family caregivers, retirement planning, and livable communities. And we have an office, like our AARP Michigan office, we have an office in every state in the U.S. as well as D.C. and the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Jason Maciejewski: (01:35)
All right. So, our focus in this episode is the work that AARP is doing on brain health, and that’s an issue that you’re very passionate about and is quite personal for you.
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (01:45)
Yes. I got involved in working in dementia and brain health because of a personal story and how it impacted my family. And I know so many of us who work for AARP who are involved in volunteering have similar stories from their lives. My story involves my dad, Jack. Now, by the time he had reached his sixties, he started becoming someone that other people really didn’t want to be around. We noticed these changes. He became increasingly self-centered and increasingly obsessed with sex, and he didn’t seem to care or notice that he made other people uncomfortable. So, one by one other members of my family banned him from coming to their homes based on inappropriate things he said or inappropriate advances that he made toward their guests. And I limited my interactions with him too because I didn’t wanna be around that kind of behavior either. We’re thinking, you know, what is this? He’s become such a dirty old man. And then in his seventies, he began to have problems with balance and walking, and incontinence, and swallowing. Still, it wasn’t until the last year and a half of his life that I came to understand that he had developed – and at that point, he was in the late stages of a type of dementia that was characterized not by memory loss, but by socially inappropriate behaviors, including hypersexual behaviors. And that’s when I learned that Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by memory loss, is just one type of dementia. So, here I was working in the aging field and I didn’t recognize what was going on in my own family. I didn’t recognize that that was dementia. And my experience then with my dad and our family made me realize how unprepared so many of us are for the unhealthy changes in some people’s brains as they age. Not everybody – we’ll talk about this a little bit more, it’s not normal part of aging – but more and more of our members, AARP, more and more people, you know, friends and family have someone living with dementia in our lives right now.
Jason Maciejewski: (04:08)
Lisa, thank you for sharing that story. We’ve seen during the pandemic that there’s been an increase in isolation and loneliness amongst older adults. It’s been a focus for us at The Senior Alliance, and we know that more than 6 million Americans have some form of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is one, as you mentioned. What resources does AARP have available on brain health? And could you give us an overview of the work that AARP is doing in this field?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (04:34)
AARP is working on brain health at both the national level and the state level, and actually at the international level. So, I mentioned earlier that AARP’s purpose is to empower people to choose how they live as they age. Of course, no one chooses to have dementia, but we can help people choose to have and live healthier lives. And we can help empower families with knowledge and resources so they can live better with dementia than so often happens now. That’s why AARP at the national, international, and state level here is committed to bringing information and resources to more families. So, the CEO of AARP nationwide, Joanne Jenkins, identified brain health as a priority for AARP, and in 2019, AARP donated 60 million dollars to the International Dementia Discovery Fund. It’s an international venture capital fund dedicated to finding and funding breakthrough treatments for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. And then last year, Dr. Sanjay Gupta published an AARP book called Keep Sharp as part of our focus on empowering people to maintain their brain health as they age. One of the things that I found most exciting and most empowering is to learn about the work of AARP’s Global Council on Brain Health. And this is an organization, it’s a collaborative that AARP put together – The Global Council on Brain Health – for the first time back in 2015 as an international collaborative of scientists, health professionals, scholars, and policy experts working in the field of brain health. And in particular, the Global Council on Brain Health focuses on brain health relating to people’s ability to think and reason as they age, including aspects of memory perception and judgment. And so, the Global Council on Brain Health debates the latest advancements in brain health scientific research to reach a consensus on what works and what doesn’t, and their goal is to cut through the clutter to offer the best possible advice for what older adults can do to maintain and improve their cognitive health. And since 2016, they have brought together about a hundred experts and published 12 reports that people can find online at aarp.org/brain health.
Jason Maciejewski: (07:07)
And Lisa following guidance from the Global Council on Brain Health, AARP has created Staying Sharp. Could you tell us what that is?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (07:14)
Yes. Staying Sharp is something that anybody can access. It’s a member benefit for AARP members, but anybody can access it online. And it is an online platform to help people learn and in their own lives incorporate brain-healthy behaviors. And this stems from some of this work from the Global Council on Brain Health because the findings – and this is really – people use terms like paradigm shift, right? That in the recent years, the scientific knowledge about brain health, the science, now shows us that cognitive decline is not inevitable, that there are things each of us can start doing, and the sooner the better, to maximize our cognitive health. The way that we do that, you know, what’s the key to better brain health? Well, the Global Council on Brain Health put together what they call the six pillars of brain health. And you can learn more about through AARP Staying Sharp online.
And it turns out that the key to better brain health isn’t a pill or a super food, it’s a combination of tried and true healthy habits that AARP refers to as the six pillars of brain health. And much of it is probably stuff that you learned in high school in health class, or that the doctors told you to do at least in part, but our hope is now that we have better science – the field of neuroscience has advanced so much in recent years – now that we know that doing these healthy behaviors, these lifestyle interventions, can increase your cognitive health, can help prevent cognitive decline in a lot of cases – now that we know that these things are directly linked to your likelihood of being able to remain mentally sharp as your age, our hope is that people will feel more motivated to take action toward living out the six pillars of brain health. The overall message of the six pillars of brain health is to pay special attention to staying physically active, getting enough good quality sleep, reducing stress in your life, eating healthy food, staying mentally active, and stayed socially connected.
Jason Maciejewski: (09:36)
So, those are six important aspects of life for people in general, as well as their brain health. I was reading an article by AARP CEO Joanne Jenkins that noted that two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women and that 60% of dementia caregivers are women as well. Could you talk about the focus AARP has on women and dementia?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (09:59)
Absolutely. This is an area that I think a lot of folks will find eye-opening as well. I know I did. There is a report that the Global Council on Brain Health put out as one of the reports in recent years called The Time to Act. They brought together leading researchers from, again, around the globe to talk about these issues, and in particular, the disparities that we see how women are more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. There is a book in particular that I would recommend to everybody called The X X Brain by Dr. Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D. And it gets at a question that a lot of folks had asked, which is why is it that we see two-thirds of the people with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. are women? It used to be that we thought, oh, you know, it’s because women live longer because we know that age is a factor at risk factor, as they say, in your likelihood to get dementia. Most older adults don’t have dementia and will never get it. But, the older that you get, the likelihood that you’ll get dementia does increase. So, scientists have just really pretty recently started looking at well, why is it that we have more women? Because when they started to look at and adjust studies for lifespan, it turns out, no that does not seem to be the cause. What the research is now looking at and showing are impacts of hormones on brain health and also impacts from lifestyle factors that tend to be things that women will experience more than men. And you raised talk about caregivers and how Joanne Jenkins is noted that 60% of dementia caregivers and caregivers are women – the majority of caregivers, family caregivers, are women. So, research is indicating now that those experiences, those additional stressors on people’s bodies and minds from that caregiving experience also can lead to greater likelihood of cognitive decline. And these are things that it’s important for us to know and focus on because knowing this information, we, as women, in particular, can pay more attention to the impact of these lifestyle factors on our bodies and brains. Also, it’s important for researchers to be paying attention to some of these issues, like now that is coming out regarding the impact of hormones on people’s brains, estrogen in particular, and how estrogen levels in the brain over your lifetime can be linked to your likelihood of experiencing cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, or another dementia as you age. All this points to a need for both more research and more focus among women everywhere to pay attention to these factors, these six pillars of brain health in our lives, to take more control to the extent that we can to maximize our chances of maintaining our cognitive health as we age.
Jason Maciejewski: (13:21)
Lisa, I saw a video on the AARP website with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who you mentioned earlier, and he covers being a caregiver for somebody with dementia. And so, what resources does AARP have for caregivers?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (13:34)
AARP is focused on helping caregivers, supporting caregivers, advocating for resources for family caregivers, all of the above. One of the sets of resources that I am most proud of, and I think are so useful to folks, are our resources for family caregivers. We have different programs available to people to participate in virtually in resources online, as well as we have resources in Michigan in particular that are available both online and a handy resource guide in print that I can send people if you are interested in something that AARP Michigan developed in working together with partners from around the state as part of the Michigan Dementia Coalition. And I am happy if people want to shoot me an email to send you a copy of this booklet, it’s free, or you can find it online if you go to our AARP Michigan dementia and brain health resources webpage, which is aarp.org/mi-dementia. But if you want to email me at LCooper@aarp.org and I’ll send those to you in the mail.
Jason Maciejewski: (14:59)
And Lisa, what’s the best way for somebody to find out information about brain health being done at AARP?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (15:05)
If you access the internet, there is a plethora of information. Again, I’m gonna have you start with the information on our AARP Michigan dementia and brain health resource page. So that’s aarp.org/mi-dementia. We also have all those reports that I talked with you about on the webpage for the Global Council on Brain Health, and you can reach those by going to aarp.org/brainhealth.
Jason Maciejewski: (15:42)
Lisa, I know that you’re co-chair of the Michigan Dementia Coalition. Could you tell us about the work of that organization?
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (15:49)
So, the Michigan Dementia Coalition is a group of organizations and individuals who are working together to improve quality of life for people living with dementia and their families, and our vision working together is to make Michigan what we call “a dementia-capable state.” So, we came together back beginning in 2016, and it involves AARP, and the Area Agencies on Aging Association, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, the Michigan Assisted Living Association, the State Department of Health and Human Services, and other partners, and we came together to facilitate cooperation among these organizations who are all working on dementia-related issues, and to come up with a plan or a roadmap that we could agree to work together on to help increase public awareness, but also to help get policymakers to focus on these issues.
And if you’re interested, kind of from a policy perspective, in learning about our current work, you can look at the Michigan Dementia Coalition website, and that address is midementiacoalition.org, where you can read our current goals that we’re working on, learn about connecting if you want to get involved with a committee working on certain issues, you could get also to that resource guide that I mentioned for family caregivers. But, there’s also something that I think is really, really cool, and I hope that more people will make use of, we put together a Speakers Bureau of the Michigan Dementia Coalition. So, a number of our Michigan Dementia Coalition partners, like our researchers and our care providers, are people that offer presentations and public information is part of their jobs, and they have volunteered as part of the Coalition to give presentations to organizations anywhere in the state. Right now, we are doing things mostly still virtually. We started this as a virtual offering during COVID, but if you go to the Michigan Dementia Coalition webpage and you pull down the speakers tab, you can see the names and pictures and backgrounds of about 30 speakers that you can contact them to come and talk with your group. It could be a group that you’re involved in in the community, you know, a neighborhood group, a church group, and they have a menu of topics related to dementia brain health. So that’s the midementiacoalition.org/speakers website to connect with an expert who could talk about these issues with a group in your community.
Jason Maciejewski: (18:35)
Lisa, thank you for all the great information you share with us today. And thank you for joining me on the podcast.
Lisa Dedden Cooper: (18:40)
Thank you, Jason. It’s great to be with you.
Jason Maciejewski: (18:42)
If you have questions about services or programs The Senior Alliance offers, you can call us at +1 800-815-1112 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about our agency or the programs and services we offer can be found on our website at www.thesenioralliance.org. On Facebook, we can be located by searching for The Senior Alliance. Finally, our Twitter handle is @AAA1C. I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside the Senior Alliance.
Speaker 3: (19:13)
Inside the Senior Alliance is a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.