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Congressman discusses senior care during hospital visit

The Evening News and The Tribune - 11/8/2019

Nov. 8--CLARKSVILLE -- Nearly six million people currently have Alzheimer's disease in the United States.

That figure rounds out to roughly one in 10 people above the age of 65. Census estimates show that the average age in the country is rising, due in part to baby boomers reaching retirement age.

As the population grows older, it's expected that nearly 14 million people 65 years old and over could develop Alzheimer's by 2050.

To care for those in that age group battling Alzheimer's and similar conditions, Brightwell Behavioral Health is preparing for its launch. In the coming weeks, the 13,5000-square-foot facility located at 1612 Blackiston View Drive in Clarksville will open its doors to provide short-term care to seniors with Alzheimer's, dementia, anxiety, depression, psychosis, schizophrenia and behavior disturbances.

On Thursday, Ninth District U.S. Representative Trey Hollingsworth, R-IN, took a tour of the facility to learn about its offerings and share details about work he's doing on Capitol Hill to bolster senior care.

"This is exactly the type of facility we need," Hollingsworth told the News and Tribune. "We need to ensure that every Hoosier -- despite their age, despite their current condition -- has the opportunity to get the care they need. That's what I've always been focused on, and this is a great opportunity for our senior citizens right here in our community to get the great help that they need to ensure that they can continue to live their best life, whatever that may mean for them in their current condition."

Hollingsworth added that through his discussions with medical associations, he's taken notice of the rise in cases of neurodegenerative diseases. Because of that, he said he's made it a point to push legislation that helps seniors through a number of avenues. Bills like the Senior Safe Act and the Senior Security Act aim to protect the health and wallets of older Americans.

"We're ensuring that we are preventing more senior fraud, which is a huge issue, in addition to making sure they have access to the care that they need every step of the way," he said. "That's hugely important to me. Our senior citizens have sacrificed a lot for this country, and 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day. We've got to make sure that we're taking care of them."

For elderly Americans battling neurodegenerative disease, Hollingsworth noted the importance of having facilities like Brightwell. According to co-owner Kyle Small, the 22-bed hospital is unlike other facilities in the area that treat mental health conditions, in that it is entirely focused on patients 65 and older.

"Every hospital you call will say they have a geriatric unit, but they also have an adult unit right next to it," he said. "Their staff will go back and forth between units. I don't know of anybody who specifies in geriatrics like we do. Everything we do is around that."

Brightwell's team specializes in geriatric care, meaning they are able to handle crises associated with neurodegenerative and psychiatric conditions. When older people struggling with these conditions are sent to mixed-age units, where they'll be in a population that includes anybody above the age of 18, they may not receive the specific care they need.

Administrator Jenny Brown said this can often lead people to stop seeking care entirely.

"They go there, and they don't have the outcome they wanted, so they just refuse to go back," she said. "They get stuck, they get no treatment, and nothing changes. Now, they have an option to actually get help in very one-on-one specific care instead of them just being part of a big group."

The team at Brightwell, Brown added, focuses on bringing individualized care to each patient, rather than treating them as a member of a group. Some of the factors they hone in on can be as simple as dietary needs.

"We talk about how much some of the depression and dementia has to do with their nutrition," she said. "A lot of facilities I've been in, patients aren't eating at home. They'll come in here and gain 20 or 30 pounds by having their medications regulated and eating properly."

Care provided at the facility, however, goes far beyond medication and eating properly. Small said that the hospital has a wide-ranging team of 40 multidisciplinary providers, including a psychiatrist, medical director, psychologist, activities director, doctors, social workers and nurses.

By providing such a comprehensive, around-the-clock treatment plan, he said mental health crises can usually be treated in 10 to 14 days at the hospital. Truly getting to the root of what's upsetting patients, along with finding the right mix of medication and therapy, is the key.

"Here, they're in five groups a day," he said. "They have social workers visiting them, they have nurses visiting them, and they have physicians visiting them. It's active care from the day they walk in, meaning that we're adjusting medications, we're getting them therapy, and we're finding out what's going on with the person to get it corrected. It's very specialized and very intensive."


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