Is our health care system ready to serve people with dementia?

Last week, when 15 firefighter-paramedics arrived at a nursing home in Lake Zurich, Illinois, they were not responding to a crisis. Their purpose was purely educational, as the firefighters embarked on a training day to learn about Alzheimer’s disease. “There’s a large handful of people that have dementia in this area, and we have to deal with them all the time, and care for them, and it’s important that we know how to do it properly,” Fire Department training chief, Mickey Wenzel reported to the local news.

With over five million people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias—and numbers are expected to grow significantly—this kind of dementia training is particularly important. However, as a new report from Justice in Aging finds, training standards for professionals who interact with people with dementia vary significantly across the country.

People with dementia—our spouses, parents, family and friends—live their lives in a wide variety of settings—nursing homes, assisted living, adult day centers, and at home in the community. They interact with social workers, adult day health care workers, medical, and emergency professionals.

States are grappling with how to best ensure that professionals and institutions working with people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias receive the training they need to serve this growing population. Studies have shown that in communities where person-centered approaches are adopted, people with dementia experience a better quality of life. The challenge facing states is making sure that information and training get to the people who can most use it in their daily work.

With support from the Alzheimer’s Association, Justice in Aging undertook a project to examine current training requirements with the goal of understanding what further steps need to be taken. We reviewed the state training requirements for professionals working with individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia in 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The project details the requirements for facilities, professional licensure, law enforcement and EMTs. A final paper looks at promising practices in one state, Washington, and explores its efforts to improve training standards.

We hope these papers will be a tool for advocates and policymakers to identify gaps and implement changes to ensure all states and communities are prepared to serve individuals with Alzheimer’s diseases or other dementias, and their families and caregivers.

 

Thank you to Louis Kravitz for the photos. 
Georgia Burke

About Georgia Burke

Georgia directs Justice in Aging’s Oakland Office where she focuses her advocacy on issues affecting people who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid benefits.