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Breaking Ground in Caregiving Research

Bill had to retire early from work in order to care for his wife who had serious health problems, including Alzheimer’s disease. In focusing solely on her care, he withdrew from activities he previously enjoyed. He felt isolated and began to feel resentful. Thanks to Marian Regional Medical Center’s support for caregivers, a project funded by the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Community Caregiving Initiative, Bill found a support group that motivated him to reengage in some of his favorite activities and began to feel more compassion for his wife.

The Santa Barbara Foundation’s Community Caregiving Initiative aims to improve the lives of people like Bill and his wife by strengthening individual family caregivers and removing barriers to their ability to access services. In addition to providing localized support to caregivers like Bill, the Community Caregiving Initiative also supports research and development in areas that affect caregivers the most, such as Alzheimer’s.

Thanks to support for medical research from the Lindgren Fund, the Santa Barbara Foundation was able to provide a grant to the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR). The grant was used to hold a convening and produce a report on finding ways that private philanthropy can engage in translational research in Alzheimer’s. Translational research is typically defined as the systematic effort to convert basic research knowledge into practical applications to improve human health and well-being.

“Alzheimer’s and dementia are some of the most difficult long-term health issues a caregiver will face,” said Phylene Wiggins, Senior Director of Community Investments at the Santa Barbara Foundation. “In funding the AFAR conference, together with The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, we honored donor intent and used the resources we had available to support finding a cure. If a cure is found, there will be a large positive impact on caregivers.”

In addition to the report produced by AFAR, one of the most beneficial outcomes of the convening was that it brought together researchers with different perspectives who are looking to address the same problem. Two of these researchers, Dr. Ken Kosik (UCSB) and Dr. Jason Hinman (UCLA) approach Alzheimer’s disease research from different angles, but actually discovered that their research is complementary and as a result, they have partnered to form an interdisciplinary team that is exploring a new area in Alzheimer’s research.

“The project is able to collect unique data on how individual cortical neurons are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, which will help us understand more about how genetics play a role in selective neuronal loss and Alzheimer’s,” said Odette van der Willik, Deputy Executive Director and Director of Grant Programs for the American Federation for Aging Research.

As a direct result of the recommendations in the AFAR convening report, the Santa Barbara Foundation is also supporting Hinman and Kosik’s research as it continues to progress.

“It is a pleasure to work with the Santa Barbara Foundation because I believe the foundation is very responsive to needs in the field,” said van der Willik. “Through funding, the foundation helped foster interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing together people who have expertise in different areas, which resulted in the development of this novel research project.”

As Hinman and Kosik prepare to apply for a larger grant from the National Institutes of Health, the Santa Barbara Foundation is dedicated to continually finding ways to improve the lives of caregivers in our community – whether through supporting research in Alzheimer’s or organizations that are providing the resources for caregivers like Bill. For more information about the Community Caregiving Initiative and how you can get involved, please visit our website or contact Phylene Wiggins, Senior Director of Community Investments at pwiggins@sbfoundation.org.

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