Currently there is an estimated 5.7 million individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia; according to the American Alzheimer’s Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is predicted to double by the year 20601

The word ‘dementia’ describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language. Dementia is caused when diseases, such as Alzheimer’s – or a series of strokes, damage the brain. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse. 

Age is the most significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, as the population of the United States — along with that of the world — increases, it is important to ask: how many people will develop this form of dementia in the coming decade? Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set out to investigate, and they published their findings in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. 

  • This neurodegenerative disease is one of the leading causes of disability and the sixth-leading cause of mortality in the United States
  • With annual healthcare costs of more than $250 billion, the disease also puts a significant strain on the nation’s healthcare system
  • Additionally, unpaid caregivers spend over 18 billion hours tending to those living with Alzheimer’s

While we don’t know what causes or how to prevent dementia, there are known risk factors; most notably age. Other factors include a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, being overweight, a lack of social contact and head injuries.

A group of researchers recently published a paper in the BMJ that explores air pollution as a possible contributing factor. Though air pollution has been linked to respiratory diseases and cardiovascular conditions, such as stroke, little is known about how it correlates to dementia. According to the study, we know that “traffic-related air pollution has been linked to poorer cognitive development in young children, and continued significant exposure may produce neuroinflammation and altered brain innate immune responses in early adulthood.” Signs currently point to poor air quality being a contributor, but the study reminds us that It is also important to note that diseases such as Alzheimer’s can take many years to develop and be diagnosed.

Tools and Resources Available

There are resources and tools available to help identify ways to implement practices to enhance the quality of life for persons from dementia, protect them from substandard care and promote goal-directed, person-centered care for every individual.

The CMS initiative, Partnership to Improve Dementia Care, promotes a multi-dimensional approach that includes public reporting, state-based coalitions, research, training and revised surveyor guidance. The Partnership promotes rethinking approaches that are utilized in dementia care, reconnecting with people using person-centered care approaches and restoring good health and quality of life in nursing homes.

Access the National Partnership for Dementia Care Site
Access the National Partnership Training Crosswalk

The Great Plains Quality Innovation Network is partnering with nursing homes throughout the region to collaborate and share tools, knowledge and experiences for improving resident safety and clinical processes and reducing preventable healthcare conditions. An area of focus is the reduction in the use of unnecessary antipsychotic medication in dementia residents. Recently, Great Plains QIN held a Dementia Roadshow offering one-day training sessions focused on utilizing dementia care best practices from the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners (NCCDP), which is intended for nursing home frontline staff (nursing assistants, nurses), but is appropriate for all departments that work with dementia. In addition to an introduction to dementia, the training focused on the following elements of dementia care:

  • Communication and Feelings
  • Depression and Repetitive Behaviors
  • Delusions, Hallucinations, Hoarding, Wandering
  • Aggressive Behaviors, Intimacy and Sexuality
  • Personal Cares; ADLs
  • Activities
  • Staff and Family Support
  • Diversity and Cultural Competency
  • Spiritual Care and End of Life

Learn more about the Dementia Roadshow.