Lisa Renzi-Hammond remembers the last months of her grandmother Evelyn’s life in flashbulb moments. For 10 years, Alzheimer’s disease had steadily chipped away at Evelyn’s memory and executive functioning until she needed full-time care.
On her last visit to Renzi-Hammond’s house in Georgia, Evelyn stood in the hallway peering into her granddaughter’s face, her hair as fiery red that day as it had always been. But she couldn’t recall who Renzi-Hammond was.
“It was heartbreaking,” Renzi-Hammond said.
This was the woman who had called her honeybunch and bought her sparkly things and dangly earrings when she was a little girl. And now here her grandmother stood, unable to recognize her.
Jenay Beer was there once, too. It took some time for Beer and her family to realize something was going on with her 80-year-old grandmother, June, who lived in another state.
“She declined rapidly, and when we were notified by a family friend that there might be an issue, things weren’t looking good for her,” Beer said. “Her kitchen wasn’t stocked. Her home was a mess. She wasn’t keeping up with herself, and we felt awful because we didn’t know these health changes were happening.”
When they first joined the Institute of Gerontology at the UGA College of Public Health, Renzi-Hammond and Beer were pursuing individual lines of research focused on helping people live better as they age.
Renzi-Hammond studies how diet and lifestyle can prevent neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. Beer specializes in assistive technologies that could help older adults, in particular those with cognitive impairment, and their families cope with health challenges.
They talked about their work and talked about their shared history with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Over time, the seed of an idea began to form, an idea to innovate Alzheimer’s and dementia care—to combine the best of prevention education, care technologies and post-diagnosis support in one place and make it accessible to people beyond the borders of the UGA campus.
In 2019, the Cognitive Aging Research and Education Center, or CARE Center, was born—a promise, they said, to their grandmothers.
Beer and Renzi-Hammond are now leading a multi-disciplinary team of UGA scientists and health professionals who are working to ensure that any Georgia resident facing an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis can get the care and support they need.