Office Of Public Affairs

Better Strategies Needed to Meet Challenges of Alzheimer's Care

Mar 10, 2008 10:00 AM

By Dr. Norman L. Foster, M.D. 

Director, Center for Alzheimer's Care, Imaging and Research

Utah long has represented the fountain of youth, boasting the youngest population of any state in the nation. However, with the state rapidly growing and people living longer, Utah will face the nation’s largest percentage increase in the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease (ad) in the next 20 years. Our neighboring states of Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming are not far behind.

The entire Intermountain West is facing a growing challenge to provide quality care for patients with Alzheimer’s, and traditional medical approaches can’t meet this challenge. Doctors, who feel increasing pressure to spend less time with their patients, often don’t determine the cause of memory loss and fail to address the needs of patients and families affected by dementia. Recent studies suggest that doctors spend less than 10 minutes discussing memory problems with patients and usually fail to involve family members. As a result, ad care is unnecessarily expensive and reactive, lurching from crisis to crisis and often involving emergency room, hospital, and nursing home treatment.

We can and should do better than this. The remarkable fact is that the at-home care that patients and families want is more effective and economical for society. Patients able to call upon a broad and unified network of caregivers receive individualized help from several people, while those in an institution have to share the attention of staff with others. Furthermore, giving families the knowledge they need and a preventative plan for care can   keep patients at home longer and save $45,000 to $60,000 a year that patients and state government pay nursing homes.

Although the way to better quality and more cost-effective dementia care is clear, many barriers prevent its adoption. Early recognition, evaluation, and treatment of memory problems are essential, but adequate time for evaluation is needed. Patients benefit enormously by keeping physically active, socializing, and having mental stimulation, but they and their families aren’t told how this can be accomplished. On top of this, health insurance, including Medicare, doesn’t pay for critically important family education and medical social work services to help families develop plans that avoids crises and the need for institutional care. Society eventually ends up spending much more when patients and families decide to opt out of receiving preventative care that they must pay for themselves.

While we advocate for a fundamental change in dementia care and wait for insurers and society to recognize the value of these proactive services, we  must work to improve the quality of life for patients and families. We realize for the time being this can cause an unavoidable financial burden for patients and families, but we should use the best care strategies identified through research now. Our patients and their families deserve it.

The Center for Alzheimer's Care, Imaging and Research has developed an innovative new model of care that begins treatment early and empowers patients and families to meet the challenges of AD. If you'd like more information, please call 801-585-6387.

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