UTA In Depth: Aging & Alzheimer's By: Hillary Green

You know someone affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

The progressive neurodegenerative disease has a far-reaching and costly impact.

A few stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put the disease into perspective.

  • Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia.
  • 14 million people are projected to be diagnosed with the disease by 2050
  • It is one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States
Family caretakers are an often-forgotten aspect of Alzheimer’s disease.

Much of the ongoing research is focused on patients in long-term care facilities. However, many with Alzheimer’s are cared for at home by family members.

Recent research from the National Institutes of Health reports that family caregivers often suffer from chronic stress, depression and other negative health effects.

Two researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington are working to change that.

Noelle Fields and Ling Xu, assistant professors in UTA's School of Social Work, partnered with The Senior Source to develop an innovative training program for Alzheimer’s caregivers.

Artie Giles, right, volunteers as a companion for Ida West, left. Ida was diagnosed with dementia in 2004.

The Senior Source, a Dallas-based nonprofit, matches older adult volunteers with those who may need companionship through the Senior Companion Program, a federally funded program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

These companions provide much needed respite for family caretakers and added socialization for Alzheimer’s patients.

Drs. Fields and Xu’s research focused on increasing Alzheimer’s awareness and caregiving tactics among African-American caregivers and companions.

Historically, the African-American community has been underserved and undereducated about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. By developing a culturally tailored training program, UTA researchers were able to better address these issues.

During the month-long training, both family caregivers and volunteer companions worked through nine modules to address issues such as stigma about the disease and mistrust of health professionals.

The training also included the basic facts of Alzheimer’s disease, managing problematic behavior, home safety, community resources, spirituality, coping skills and more.

Overall, the data suggests that the SCP Plus is a promising intervention for African American dementia caregivers with implications for other minority populations.

After the monthlong training, 60 percent of the study participants reported an increase of their knowledge of Alzheimer’s.

Qualitative findings from the SCP Plus suggest that​ caregivers experienced improvement in knowledge about disease process and prognosis, less caregiver burden, increased tolerance for difficult behaviors, decreased stress levels, and a better relationship with their Senior Companion.

Results from quantitative data suggest that caregivers experienced improvement in self-care, self-esteem, and receiving appropriate health care. Study results further indicated that caregivers experienced improvements in social support by participating in the SCP Plus.

Fields and Xu hope their research will garner additional funding to implement the project at a larger scale.

The initial study was funded by a School of Social Work Innovative Community Academic Partnership grant.

Dr. Fields and Dr. Xu’s research is available in the journal Dementia.

Created By
Hillary Green

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