Though it now ranks as one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s is the only one we still don’t know how to prevent, cure, or even slow down. But what is known, according to research by a team at New York University, is how to help those who take care of family members with Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia.
The benefits of support programs are concrete and measurable. Research by the NYU Caregiver Intervention Program, led by Mary Mittelman, has shown that such intervention not only improves the physical and mental health of a caregiver, it can delay the need to institutionalize a patient by an average of 18 months. If nursing home care costs between $50,000 and $100,000, the savings can have a major impact on family and governmental budgets.
Now an Alzheimer’s/dementia caregiver program based on the Mittelman findings is being offered to local families, thanks to a $160,000 grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey and funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Jewish Family Service of Central NJ and Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, both beneficiary agencies of the federation, are offering the program to caregivers in their respective areas. It is being run in conjunction with Mittelman and her team, and functioning under the auspices of the Alzheimer’s Association of New Jersey.
Services include individual consultation and counseling with 24-hour support, counseling sessions together with close family or friends, and a series of support group meetings with fellow caregivers. The Central JFS support groups began meeting on April 4; the MetroWest JFS groups will begin on April 29.
Healthcare Foundation executive director Marsha Atkind said NYU chose to become involved in this region because of its demographics and the high number of older adults.
“The foundation and JFS agencies have been aware for quite some time that we have a growing problem and that people need help,” she said. “We’re very cognizant of the stress that caregivers face, especially in dealing with those with Alzheimer’s. It can be an extremely difficult condition for family members to handle. It’s very important to provide support for those caregivers, to help them maintain their own health, so they’re able to provide the best care they can for the patients.”
The entire staff of the Central JFS took part in the two-day training offered by Mittelman and her team.
“I think it was one of the best trainings our staff has ever done,” said executive director Tom Beck.
In the case of MetroWest JFS, 11 social workers who deal with older adults took part in an on-line version of the training. Reuben Rotman, executive director of the agency, said it was effective and convenient. The teams at both agencies also had in-person training conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Rotman pointed out that MetroWest JFS has been offering support for caregivers, including a phone and e-mail consultation service launched last year. “Every caregiver situation is unique and different, so we try to tailor our approach to suit each case,” he said. “We’re excited about this program because it enables us to offer a more diversified range of options.”
Alyson Kaplan, who runs the phone support service, will be MetroWest JFS’s lead social worker on this program.
Both agencies are planning to have nurses work with participants, providing guidance on issues like administering medicines or dealing with hygiene. “We involved nurses only in one small pilot study in New York some years ago,” Mittelman told NJ Jewish News, “and I thought it was an excellent way to link services for the benefit of people with dementia and their family members.”
She said the JFS staffs “have been delightful to deal with and are obviously very caring. There is, indeed, a growing concern about Alzheimer’s, and unfortunately no drug to stop or prevent it. Psychosocial interventions like the NYUCI have proven effectiveness, and should be available to all families dealing with dementia.”
Social worker Marilucy Lopes, who is running the Central program together with registered nurse Renee Unterman, said she welcomes the service because she well remembers the sadness of seeing her grandmother, who lived with the family for years, gradually deteriorate until she had to be placed in a nursing home.