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$50 million gift to hospital from philanthropist Richard Pickup
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$50 million gift to hospital from philanthropist Richard Pickup

Hoag Hospital officials are announcing plans for a center at the Newport Beach campus that will “pioneer new, whole family-centered approaches to brain health and healthy aging.”

A “transformational” $50 million gift from Newport Beach philanthropist Richard Pickup is helping establish the center, which will not only work on research and to improve gaps in care for memory and cognitive disorders, but also create programs for patients’ family members who are also impacted by the effects of the often devastating diseases.

Pickup, who turns 90 next month, has directed several donations over the years toward advancing care for those dealing with dementia-related diseases. The Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, a Hoag program that offers neurologic care and treatment, was established in 2017 after a $15 million donation. This new gift will create the Richard H. Pickup Center for Brain Health.

“We really need to change the model of how we do care for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Hoag realizes, and our community realizes, that the way we’ve done things is just not going to cut it,” said Aaron Ritter, director of the Memory and Cognitive Disorders Program at the Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute.

“The idea is getting in front of this, doing things now and creating a model and programs that can actually help alleviate the suffering that comes with the disease, and also advancing new therapies and treatments that follow what we’ve done with cardiac care and diabetes care,” Ritter said. “It’s a huge change.”

Along with creating the new space on the hospital grounds, the $50 million gift will also go toward supportive programs for patients and their families with a focus on screenings, early detection and advancing technology, Hoag officials said.

Because care needs to go beyond patient treatment, Ritter said. Family members and loved ones often shoulder the burden and costs of care.

“It’s a family disease, so anybody that’s affected by dementia, you multiply it by two or three, the number of people that it takes to care for those people,” Ritter said.

“Yesterday, I saw somebody whose 21-year-old son has to move to Newport Beach to take care of his dad. He’s like, ‘I don’t know what to do. I won’t be able to make any money.’ Those are the stories we’re hearing,” Ritter said. “So how do we change that? How do we get the support and care for a 21-year-old who has to take care of their 65-year-old father? That’s the challenge that is faced by dementia care right now.”

There are warnings of a “Silver Tsunami” in the United States, as the population older than 65 grows quickly and people live longer.

Orange County’s population of older folks is growing by 15% annually, according to Hoag officials. And with aging comes several health concerns and diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alzheimer’s rates in Orange County, Hoag officials noted, doubled between 2014 and 2021 and are projected to double again by 2040, requiring more experts in brain health and aging.

Ritter warned the medical industry hasn’t made as much progress for diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s as it has in other areas such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

“The rates of death from those have gone way down. And for Alzheimer’s, we haven’t seen the same outcome,” he said. “People are living longer, but they’re developing dementia. So the idea of taking care of people that are at risk for dementia, preventing dementia or treating dementia better, that’s a big part of treating the Silver Tsunami.”

The Richard H. Pickup Center for Brain Health will be a place to change that, he said. The center will be designed with a “whole-family” approach to care.

It starts with an accurate, timely diagnosis, Ritter said, and then with the family developing a treatment plan that addresses the areas in a person’s life that illnesses like dementia most impact. A whole-family approach to care covers those things, as well as the ways that the loved ones of a patient may need care as well.

“Right now we have in the United States something we call dementia neurology deserts. There are places where people can’t get a diagnosis, they can’t get answers as to what may be going on,” Ritter said. “Dementia always impacts driving, finances and medications, pragmatic things. Right now, Hoag supports the Alzheimer’s Families Center in Huntington Beach, which is a huge operation. About 100 families use those services every day.”

Pickup understands firsthand the struggles that families face when caring for a person with memory and cognitive disorders.

“I had a close brother of mine that was probably seven or eight years younger than I, and I went through the pain of just seeing him deteriorate so badly,” Pickup said. “I think at this particular point in my life, instead of supporting 75 different (causes), I said, ‘Let’s take this meaningful amount of money—we all have this great big desire to build this particular program up – let’s put it in there and see what these guys can do with it.’”

Pickup said he hopes the new center will help develop better awareness of memory and cognitive diseases, as well as earlier detection.

“There’s got to be some gaps in here that we certainly could cover to come along a little bit faster,” Pickup said. “There’s not a lot of money being spent individually in this particular disease, and maybe this will go for the home run we’re looking for.”

Photo: Aaron Ritter, M.D., program director for memory and cognitive disorders at Hoag’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute, and philanthropist Richard Pickup in Newport Beach

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