May 15, 2008

Whitehouse Hears From O’Connor, Gingrich at Senate Hearing on Alzheimer’s

Former Supreme Court Justice, Former House Speaker Discuss the Need for Further Research to Discover Better Treatments

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, participated in a hearing yesterday on Alzheimer’s, a disease that now affects more than five million Americans.

Whitehouse and other Committee members heard testimony from former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, speaking publicly for the first time about her husband’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who, like O’Connor, is a member of the Alzheimer’s Study Group, also testified.

“Alzheimer’s is a devastating illness for those living with it and for their families,” said Whitehouse. “This hearing was a sobering reminder of the need to improve diagnosis and treatment of this disease – and to work as quickly as possible to find a cure.”

A native Rhode Islander was also on hand to testify. Dr. Rudi Tanzi is the Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, and a Professor of Neurology at Harvard University. He is originally from Cranston, Rhode Island.

Justice O’Connor, whose husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1990, spoke about the stress of Alzheimer’s on patients and their families. O’Connor herself decided to retire from the Supreme Court in 2006 in order to better care for her husband, and she urged Congress to “improve formal and informal supports for those who currently have Alzheimer’s and for their caregivers.”

Gingrich, who is a co-chair of the Alzheimer’s Study Group, stressed that working to find solutions to Alzheimer’s disease is in the best interest of all Americans, and said that he believes the country can rise to meet the challenge.

The hearing was called by Aging Committee Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) to discuss the latest in Alzheimer’s research and treatment, including the difficulty in diagnosing early-onset Alzheimer’s, the importance of providing training and support to patient caregivers, and the need for a comprehensive strategy to combat the disease in the years to come.


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