Help, Hope, and Support: What We Must Do Now to Help the Millions Living With Alzheimer’s

By Kim Warchol | Posted on 03.21.2013 | 0 comments
Last month, USA Today published an article about the Alzheimer’s “epidemic” that’s projected to affect the US by 2050. Research indicates that, by 2050, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s will have nearly tripled.
In the article, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer's Association Maria Carrillo says, "There is great urgency for meaningful, timely and comprehensive action."
I couldn’t agree more.
If you follow this blog, you know that I’ve been specializing in working with individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias for over 20 years. I have educated over 5,000 health care professionals and designed and set up memory care environments. I’ve also worked closely with individuals with Alzheimer's and their families. My passion is to enable those living with Alzheimer’s to maintain purpose, health, and quality of life at every stage of the disease process.  
As the article states, it’s true that Alzheimer’s disease causes declines that affect a person’s independence and safety. It’s also true that the disease can “take” the loved one. But there is hope for quality of life for both people with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. Successful coexistence with this chronic, progressive disease is possible.
A Coordinated Effort
It’s important that we as a society focus on research about the disease. But it’s vital that we center our efforts on more than just research. We need the “coordinated effort” that Jennifer Weuve of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging calls for. This coordinated effort must include enveloping the millions of people living with Alzheimer’s/dementia today with the help and guidance of occupational therapists, nurses, and other health professionals who have specialized dementia management skills.
Just as we have cancer care centers and cardiac care centers, we also need Alzheimer’s care centers, not just diagnostic centers. We need to develop teams of readily available Alzheimer’s/dementia specialized care professionals who have the knowledge to identify and promote the use of the person’s remaining abilities. When we engage a person’s remaining abilities, we can facilitate purpose for the person and participation in life activities. This optimizes the person’s independence, health, and safety.
Guidance for Families
In addition, we must teach families and caregivers how to provide a supportive environment and how to adapt all of life’s activities to the just-right challenge level in order for the person to maintain engagement in meaningful life activities, as best as possible, at every stage. This is similar to the way we provide care for children. We adjust and compensate, while celebrating what’s possible, at every developmental age. Children can flourish, despite their cognitive limitations. So too can elders with Alzheimer’s/dementia—if we focus on their abilities instead of their losses, and if we provide appropriate levels of support.  
Families need professionals like dementia-trained occupational therapists to assess their loved ones, to look at the living environment, and to teach, support, and guide. While families typically go through stages of grief as they face the decline and changes they see in their loved ones, a dementia-capable society can and must support families throughout the disease process. And a dementia-capable society can and must enable those with Alzheimer’s to maintain what they can do for as long as possible.
Therapy Services & Medicare Coverage
The person with dementia can do much more than we think, but it requires dementia-capable professionals to discover and facilitate a person’s abilities. At Dementia Care Specialists, we advocated hard to prevent the automatic denial of occupational and other therapies for those with Alzheimer’s, and we saw the Medicare rule changed in September 2001.
Recently, the Medicare Improvement Standard was lifted, again providing opportunity for therapy professionals to work with those with chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s/dementia in order to optimize and maintain individuals’ function, health, and safety. This specialized therapy service is covered by Medicare, as it is a preventive wellness approach that can greatly reduce the costs of “reactive care” actions such as hospitalizations, which are typically three times more likely when a person has Alzheimer’s.
Learn More
To learn more about supporting people with dementia and their families, read about our total solutions for dementia care providers. We provide dementia care training for therapists and care partners, memory care consulting for individual professionals and facilities specializing in memory care, and professional recognition for care partners and facilities that are committed to raising the standard for dementia care.  
Please also visit the American Occupational Therapy Association website to learn more about what trained OTs can and must do to help. I also recommend the Dementia and the Role of Occupational Therapy fact sheet.

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