At Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL) we are no strangers to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Close to 98 percent of our patients at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center suffer from some form of dementia, and close to a third of the residents in many of our senior living communities are also coping with varying degrees of dementia either as patients or caregivers.
We know too well what those afflicted, as well as their friends, families, and caregivers go through. It’s difficult at times to say who suffers more – patient or caregiver. The patient faces a life-altering, terminal illness, and their families suffer the pain of watching loved-ones lose their cognitive abilities, often over the course of years. Nancy Reagan aptly dubbed Alzheimer’s the “long goodbye.”
The incidence of Alzheimer’s is growing at an alarming rate. It’s estimated five million people in the U.S. have the disease, and their care accounts for 20 percent of Medicare spending. Individuals 65 and older are at greatest risk, and as this segment of the population grows, so will the incidence of dementia. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only one of the six that can’t be prevented, slowed, or cured.
Although there’s a growing wealth of research data on Alzheimer’s, it doesn’t present a single, cohesive picture that suggests what causes Alzheimer’s. And when we’ll have effective drugs to prevent or treat it is anyone’s guess. The best we can do at this point is to find ways to optimize quality of life for patients and their families through clinical care, research, education, and advocacy.
In response to the burden that Alzheimer’s and other dementias place on patients, families, and our health system, HSL started an initiative focused on designing, testing, and implementing models of best-practice for comprehensive, cost-effective, person-centered dementia care. We recruited Gary Epstein-Lubow, M.D., as Medical Director for our program. Dr. Lubow brings nearly 20 years of academic and clinical achievements and extensive knowledge about caring for patients and families with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related disorders. Dr. Lubow is joined by Ellen Leiter, B.S.N., M.B.A., as Administrative Director for the program. Ellen is a seasoned nurse executive and has an extensive background in program development.
With these two experts in place, HSL is poised to lead the way to better serve patients within our communities and more broadly in the Greater Boston area. Ultimately, our hope is to develop effective models of care that can be shared broadly.
Also, reach out to your legislators. While there is reason to be optimistic with news that Congress passed a $400 million increase for Alzheimer’s research funding at the National Institutes of Health in the FY2017 budget, finding the cause, and an approach to prevention and a cure will require even more funding.
In the meantime researchers in our Institute for Aging Research continue to discover how best to care for current and future patients as we wait for a cure. Susan Mitchell, M.D., M.P.H., directs IFAR’s Palliative Care Research program and published resources for both professionals who care for Alzheimer’s patients, and families and friends of patients. You can download her guides here.
I hope you’ll join us as we place increasing focus on dementia patients and their caregivers in our quest to redefine the experience of aging.
About Hebrew SeniorLife
Founded in Boston in 1903, Harvard Medical School-affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife is a nonprofit, non-sectarian organization that today provides communities and health care for seniors, research into aging, and education for geriatric care providers. With nearly 2,600 employees aligned around a common mission, goals and cultural beliefs, we are one of the largest employers in Massachusetts. We care for 3,000 seniors a day at our nine Boston-area campuses and communities. We reach countless more seniors, families, caregivers and senior care professionals around the U.S. and the world through our research and teaching mission.
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