Changes Needed to Prepare Workforce to Care for Adults With Alzheimer’s

warshawImmediate and significant changes are needed in order to ensure a larger and better trained workforce able to care for the current and growing population of older adults with Alzheimer’s disease, say University of Cincinnati (UC) experts.

In a manuscript published in the April 2014 issue of Health Affairs, Gregg Warshaw, MD, of UC’s College of Medicine, and Elizabeth Bragg, PhD, of UC’s College of Nursing, outline a number of necessary policy actions for meeting the needs of the more than 5 million Alzheimer’s patients in the United States. That number is expected to triple by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Warshaw and Bragg suggest changes in health profession college curriculums, expanded team-based models of care and incentive programs to attract clinicians into education roles. In addition to care approaches and education strategies, they also recommend expansion of federal workforce training programs and increased compensation for the direct care workforce.

“The remarkable success of public health and medical care advances has led to many more Americans living into their eighties, nineties, and beyond,” the authors say. “This accomplishment, unfortunately, has resulted in a growing number of adults who live with Alzheimer’s disease for a prolonged period.

“The care of adults with Alzheimer’s is particularly challenging and requires a large and well trained workforce.”

Alzheimer’s disease is a disease of the brain characterized in its early stages by memory loss and progressing to marked memory loss and a decrease in thinking ability such as decision making and ability to perform activities of daily living.

Warshaw, the Martha Betty Semmons Professor of Geriatric Medicine and professor of family and community medicine at UC and director of the Geriatric Medicine Program, has already developed programs to integrate Alzheimer’s care early into medical student education. In 2011, he and a team launched a four-week longitudinal teaching module as part of the required third-year family medicine clerkship on the evaluation and management of the older adult patient and caregiver. The program uses standardized patients to put a focus on Alzheimer’s disease.

But, he and Bragg agree, more needs to be done.

“Without an immediate and significant commitment to developing the health care workforce to address this challenge, many older adults with dementia will receive inadequate care,” the authors write. “By extension, their children and grandchildren will be burdened with extraordinarily challenging responsibilities for which they will not receive sufficient support.”

In the United States, one in nine people ages 65 and older and one-third of people ages 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease.

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