To enhance care for the growing number of people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center a $3.75 million grant.
The grant will establish a partner-reliant program designed to better educate healthcare providers and caregivers in Oklahoma, and create dementia-friendly health systems. According to a University of Oklahoma news release, the state ranks relatively low in multiple quality of life and health categories for older adults.
“Dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, is much more prevalent in older adults,” said Lee Jennings, MD, who is co-leading the grant effort. “As the number of older Oklahomans increases, this disease will become more common. We don’t want people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers to become isolated. We want communities and healthcare systems that are friendly to people with cognitive impairment and memory loss. We want people to thrive as long as they can, as best they can, with the support they need.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some 5.6 million individuals in the United States age 65 and older have the disease. That figure is expected to reach 7.1 million by 2025. Because of projected increases in that age group, Western and Southwestern states are expected to experience the biggest percentage increases in the number of Alzheimer’s patients between 2019 and 2025, straining healthcare systems. In Oklahoma, the number of those living with Alzheimer’s is projected to rise during those years from 65,000 to 76,000.
Instead of working exclusively with University of Oklahoma physicians and students — the structure of most academic grant programs — this effort will involve many of the state’s primary care clinics, nonprofit advocacy groups, and patients’ caregivers and family members. Most medical care for dementia patients is provided by primary care clinics, leaving most of caregiving to family. Because largely rural Oklahoma has a shortage of primary care doctors, everyone who is helping patients needs more support and education.
Thomas Teasdale, who has a doctorate in public health, is the other program leader. He plans to build upon a partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Health in which he works with roughly 300 nursing homes. In collaboration with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, Teasdale will also extend dementia care education to new audiences, including community health workers. As the program evolves, the Oklahoma Foundation for Medical Quality will provide quality improvement consulting.
Jennings and her team will also collaborate with the Oklahoma Physicians Resource/Research Network, a group of physicians who conduct ongoing research to improve care. University of Oklahoma dementia experts will provide consultation to their rural counterparts, particularly for help treating patients with complications.
The creation of dementia-friendly health systems includes everything from a clinic’s physical layout to community resources for patients and caregivers. Details may include understandable office signage, senior-friendly exam tables, and aids such as hearing amplifiers and large-print reading material. The program, which extends to the state’s native Americans, also emphasizes patient and caregiver support groups, which may also reduce stigma associated with Alzheimer’s.
”It can be isolating if caregivers don’t feel like they can go out into the community with their loved one,” Jennings said. “We want to help people live with dignity and be as independent as possible while they age with this disease.”
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