The Care Center for Older Adults, the Washington area's first center for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, opened its doors last week.

The center, which is run by Inova Health Systems Inc., the parent of Fairfax Hospital System, is near Fairfax Hospital.

It will provide assessment, counseling, referral and support services for Alzheimer's sufferers and their families. Nationwide, 2.5 million Americans suffer from the disease.

The center will work with a patient's family physician, then refer the patient and family members to appropriate counseling services, hospital facilities, or nursing homes, according to Knox Singleton, president of Inova Health Systems. "It's important to stress that the care center is open to all members of the Northern Virginia community regardless of their ability to pay," Singleton said.

The center also is planning to work with the University of Virginia's medical school on research into Alzheimer's.

In another development, the Fairfax Hospital system last week announced an agreement with Hospice of Northern Virginia to open a second inpatient hospice unit at Fair Oaks hospital in Fairfax.

Under the arrangement, Fair Oaks will lease space for a 10-bed unit to Hospice, which will staff and administer the facility.

"It's highly unusual to have one separately licensed and accredited program operating within the walls of another," Singleton said.