The number of Americans over 65 years living with Alzheimer’s could jump from five million to 15 million by 2050, according to the 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. The rising trend fuels advocates across the country to promote Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month in June to raise funds and promote education.
In North Dakota and South Dakota, over 33,000 people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and another 69,000 serve as caregivers. While ongoing research has yet to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, there are treatment options for slowing the progress through the three disease stages. Each stage can last for years and the transition from one stage to another can be difficult to identify.
“Individuals experiencing symptoms of dementia have special care needs,” explained Lori Hintz, RN, Certified Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Care Trainer (CADDCT) and quality improvement advisor for the Great Plains Quality Innovation Network (QIN). “Providing information on alternative methods in addition to medication options presents choices as the patient and caregiver adjust to personality and behavior changes.” [Hintz is pictured to the left].
During early stages of disease, the individual may function independently including driving, working, and participating in social activities. As they enter the middle, and longest stage of Alzheimer’s, family and caregiver support becomes essential.
“Managing challenging behaviors takes a toll on caregivers. While alternative methods such as music therapy can provide relief for both the person giving and receiving care, adult day care centers and other community support options can become a much-needed lifeline,” commented Hintz.
|The added pressures of social distancing, due to COVID-19 combined with limited access to routine support systems, left many, including those impacted by Alzheimer’s, struggling to cope. Limited access to behavioral health services, especially in rural areas, is an ongoing challenge. The Rural Policy Research Institute’s Behavioral Health in Rural America: Challenges and Opportunities provides a broader overview of common issues and potential strategies to address rural mental health and substance use services.||
Behavioral health services are especially valuable for caregivers as loved ones approach the final disease stage. Caregivers may experience multiple cycles of grief as communications change and they begin the transition from supporting daily living to preparing for end of life.
“Documenting personal wishes in an advanced care plan and sharing it with a loved one is important for everyone. While the initial conversation can be difficult, knowing the desires of their loved one makes the decision-making process easier,” reflected Hintz. “As individuals with Alzheimer’s lose their ability to communicate, an advanced care plan gives them back their voice.”
The Great Plains QIN values collaboration and is bringing together community and healthcare stakeholders to address challenges and seek solutions while also preventing duplication of effort. Our focus on five goal areas, identified by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (CMS); many of which directly impact individuals living with Alzheimer’s:
- Improve Behavioral Health Outcomes, with a focus on decreased opioid misuse
- Increase Patient Safety
- Increase Chronic Disease Self-Management
- Increase Quality of Care Transitions
- Improve Nursing Home Quality