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Alzheimer's panel: Screen caregivers, too

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Should doctors and hospitals treat caregiving as an obvious health risk?


The long-term care (LTC) subcommittee at the Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s Research, Care and Services has given that assessment in a package of recommendations made to the council.

Council members discussed the recommendations earlier this week at a meeting in Washington.

Congress included the law that created the advisory council in the National Alzheimer’s Project Act of 2011 (NAPA). The council is supposed to help its parent, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) come up with a plan for preventing and curing Alzheimer’s by 2025.

The council also is supposed to come up for strategies for improving support for people with dementia and their relatives.

Dealing with the problems by simply making Alzheimer’s go away, now, is not a realistic option, council members acknowledged.

“A prevention or cure is not imminent,” members of the council’s clinical care subcommittee said in a presentation prepared for the council meeting.

Council members made some ambitious proposals without giving details about how the proposals could be implemented.

In a discussion of paraprofessional caregiver training, for example, the LTC subcommittee said authorities “should require that paraprofessional caregivers receive at least 10 hours of dementia specific training from a reliable source.”

“States should enact policies that ensure that [paraprofessional caregivers'] hours and pay reflect a fair and living wage, because many of these workers are working multiple shifts at below subsistence wages, often with few benefits,” the subcommittee said in its presentation.

The council also is talking about proposals that could be implemented cheaply and easily. The council is trying, for example, to expand use of simple screening tests when seniors and younger patients who show signs of dementia go in for checkups. The screening tools to be considered must be free, and administering a screening using one of the candidate tools must take 5 minutes or less, council members said.

The LTC subcommittee came up with a quick and easy way to improve status assessments of spouses and other family caregivers.

“Whenever a caregiver accompanies a person with [Alzheimer's disease] to a health care appointment; emergency department visit; or hospitalization, the attending health care provider should ask if the caregiver is well,” the subcommittee said.

If the caregiver reported not being well, the provider could then help the caregiver get any services needed, the subcommittee said.

The government should support efforts to develop technological tools that can reduce caregivers’ feelings of isolation and help them maintain their own mental and physical health, the subcommittee said.

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