hands being held

Program helps caregivers of those with dementia

It’s been called the Silver Tsunami — the coming wave of older adults — and it’s already leading to an increase in Alzheimer’s and related dementia diagnoses. Naturally, there is also an increase in the associated burden on caregivers.

Already 11 percent of South Carolinians 65 and older have been diagnosed — nearly 96,000 men and women — and about three-fourths of them are cared for by family members or close friends. Maggi Miller, a research assistant professor and epidemiologist in the Arnold School of Public Health, is participating in a partnership with Prisma Health to provide coaching to caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia in the Greenville area.

“A lot of times people with Alzheimer’s have really challenging behavior, and caregivers don’t get much of a break,” says Miller, who also manages the state’s Alzheimer’s disease registry at the Arnold School’s Office for the Study of Aging. “At the later stages of the disease, many individuals need 24-hour care, and it is often very hands-on care.”

Miller is conducting an evaluation of the Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health coaching program to determine the effectiveness of the person-centered, six-month, 12-session program. Coaches share tips on safety, understanding dementia and creating a dementia-friendly lifestyle. They also learn how to assess each home environment to determine if improvements can be made or additional resources are needed.

“They get into specific problem solving with the caregivers and help them brainstorm solutions for handling difficult behaviors and planning for the future, among other issues,” Miller says. “They also talk about the caregiver’s emotional health and the importance of taking care of themselves.”

Surveys are conducted with caregivers before and after the coaching to determine their feelings of competency, emotional health and disposition toward institutionalizing their loved one affected by dementia. The program is expanding to train hundreds of adults who volunteer for Meals on Wheels in the Upstate, teaching them to spot signs of dementia among the homebound seniors they serve and what to do if they think a Meals on Wheels client needs assistance.

“We’re going to raise up an army of people who have a better understanding of Alzheimer’s and make the agency more dementia-capable so they can make sure that people are getting the assistance they need,” Miller says.

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about