There’s no cure, yet, for Alzheimer’s disease. But dozens of programs developed in the past 20 years can improve the lives of both people living with dementia and their caregivers.
Unlike support groups, these programs teach caregivers concrete skills such as how to cope with stress, make home environments safe, communicate effectively with someone who’s confused, or solve problems that arise as this devastating illness progresses.
Some of these programs, known as “comprehensive dementia care,” also employ coaches or navigators who help assess patients’ and caregivers’ needs, develop individualized care plans, connect families to community resources, coordinate medical and social services, and offer ongoing practical and emotional support.
Unfortunately, despite a significant body of research documenting their effectiveness, these programs aren’t broadly available or widely known. Only a small fraction of families coping with dementia participate, even in the face of pervasive unmet care needs. And funding is scant, compared with the amount of money that has flooded into the decades-long, headline-grabbing quest for pharmaceutical therapies.
“It’s distressing that the public conversation about dementia is dominated by drug development, as if all that’s needed were a magic pill,” said Laura Gitlin, a prominent dementia researcher and dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
“We need a much more comprehensive approach that recognizes the prolonged, degenerative nature of this illness and the fact that dementia is a family a …