Dementia Care at the 2014 AOTA Conference

It was a pleasure to attend and participate in the 2014 AOTA Conference and Expo held in Baltimore, Maryland April 3-6th. My team and I had many opportunities to learn, network, and educate.
As usual it was a wonderful learning experience, and I was thrilled to see so much interest in the topic of Alzheimer’s/dementia. There were many education sessions provided on this topic throughout the conference, and I was pleased to see so many OTs attending these sessions. This is definitely an improvement from the past in which sessions on dementia appeared to be less frequent or popular.
Kim Warchol (l) with Kate Keefe, OTR/L, Global Professional Instructor and consultant for Dementia Care Specialists.
It was a great honor to have the opportunity to present on Saturday April 5th. My presentation was entitled “The Expanding Role of the Occupational Therapist in Alzheimer’s Care.” I tried to create a 90-minute presentation to accomplish a few goals such as:
  • Educate on the latest statistics and prevalence of Alzheimer’s and the related dementias. I reviewed the 2014 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures Report; essentially we are facing an epidemic as the prevalence continues to rise.
  • Review the key role the Occupational Therapist can and should play as a specialist in Alzheimer’s/dementia assessment and treatment. I referenced several of the wonderful AOTA guidelines and statements such as the 2010 Occupational Therapy Practice Guidelines for Adults with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias and the 2013 AOTA Statement: Cognition, Cognitive Rehabilitation and Occupational Performance.
  • Identify some progression in the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual that describes medically necessary and skilled therapy services for those with Alzheimer’s/dementia. I reviewed a few key pieces of information including the 2001 CMS Memorandum, the 2013 Jimmo vs Sebelius lawsuit, and important updates to the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. I sought to dispel some common misunderstandings by showing quotes from the policy manual such as language that describes our ability to serve people who have chronic and progressive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, and language that describes establishing Maintenance Programs to maximize function and/or prevent and slow decline.
  • Demonstrate the reimbursement available for an OT. This involved the OT training caregivers (family and professional staff) throughout the Occupational Therapy services that are delivered to a client/patient.  
  • Briefly describe the Cognitive Disabilities Model (by Claudia Allen) and the Allen Cognitive Levels. The Cognitive Disabilities Model (and associated assessments) is the theoretical framework we use to deliver high quality, reimbursable Occupational Therapy services for those with Alzheimer’s/dementia, and it is a recommended model in many AOTA guidelines and statements. I sought to explain the importance of learning a model and not just a cognitive assessment as the model helps us to understand complexities and to discover real functional, cognitive potential.
My other hope was that I could use these 90 minutes to inspire Occupational Therapists to become part of the solution by helping to create a Dementia Capable Society. At Dementia Care Specialists we seek to create a network of health professionals that will have specialized skills to envelop those living with Alzheimer’s/dementia and their loved ones with one-on-one education and support.
A Call to Action for OTs during Kim’s presentation.
I am reminded that we all entered this profession to serve with our unique focus on improving or maximizing the level of functional independence in meaningful occupation. Claudia Allen’s model asks us not to focus on what the person with Alzheimer’s/dementia can’t do but instead to discover what they can do. OTs are trained at a much higher level than other professionals to be able to administer standardized functional cognitive assessments, to understand complexities, and to discover and facilitate potential.
I expressed emphatically that I believe the statistics from the 2014 Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures report [PDF) don’t represent an Occupational Therapy opportunity, but they define an Occupational Therapy obligation. There are many with Alzheimer’s/dementia who are struggling to live a life of quality and to maintain their health and safety. There are paid and unpaid caregivers who are struggling to provide the right type and level of care and assist. This is why OT is needed now.
There is no greater profession positioned to take a leadership role in mitigating the impact of this disease on the person, their loved ones, their care providers, and our society. The AOTA conference was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with so many who care and are working hard to move the Occupational Therapy profession forward as a real difference maker for those living with Alzheimer’s and their care providers.
Professor Wendy Wood (l) from Colorado State University, and Kim Warchol.
Check out the rest of our pictures on our Facebook page, and be sure to download our free eBook for communication tips for serving persons with dementia.

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