According to a recent Alzheimer’s Association report, about 1 in 9 people ages 65+ and 1 in 3 people ages 85+ in the U.S. have Alzheimer’s disease. The number of Alzheimer cases is projected to almost triple from 5 million in 2013 to 14 million in 2050. The aging population and increasing longevity in the U.S. are behind the increasing incidence of this not-yet-treatable disease.
The impact of Alzheimer’s and related dementia extends beyond the healthcare needs of the person who has the illness. The disease involves a progressive deterioration of person’s brain function, causing loss of memory as well as ability to care for him- or herself. People with Alzheimer’s are at an increased risk for falls, delirium, and other negative conditions, and they require ongoing supervision of their daily living activities. A number of published studies have found that caring for a family member with the disease has significant negative physical and mental health consequences. The family caregivers are at increased risk of stress, depression, and physical illness.
Since Alzheimer’s has such a substantial impact on the family and caregivers, different models of informal caregiver education and support programs have been created to help alleviate the negative consequences. Some of these models such as the New York University Caregiver Intervention (NYUCI) provides individual counseling, family sessions and support, and ad-hoc assistance to the caregivers. These programs help educate caregivers about Alzheimer’s and provide tools to help caregivers cope with behaviors exhibited by those with progressively worsening dementia.
Many benefits have been documented with these programs including reduced levels of caregiver stress and depression, improved effectiveness at providing care, and delayed nursing home placement of those with Alzheimer’s. In a simulation study, researchers have estimated the impact of offering NYUCI to all eligible people in Minnesota from 2010 to 2025. With the NYUCI, the proportion of people with dementia remaining at home (or in the community) increased by approximately 5% at year 3, compared to the results without the NYUCI, and that difference persisted in years 5, 10, and 15. Also, in a separate study, with caregivers participating in a greater number of counseling sessions has been found to be associated with longer period of time in which the care was provided at home.
While it is very likely that a person with Alzheimer’s will eventually require the 24/7 skilled nursing care at a nursing home, the caregiver intervention programs help delay that transition. They are not only beneficial to the caregivers by increasing their capacity to provide appropriate care but also to our healthcare system. For example, the programs can generate savings to the healthcare system and help lessen the existing strains on inadequate supply of healthcare practitioners in geriatrics and dementia care.
For more information on caring for someone with Alzheimer’s and related dementia, following are a couple great resources for caregiver education and support: