OKLAHOMA CITY – A local center has been awarded a grant to help support the growing number of Oklahomans who suffer from memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 65,000 Oklahomans currently live with Alzheimer’s. Experts predict that number will likely grow in the coming years.
Although we have thousands of people who live with Alzheimer’s, Oklahoma ranks near the bottom in rankings for quality of life and health for older adults.
Now, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center has been awarded a $3.75 million federal grant. The grant will allow the center to educate the current workforce to better care for people with dementia, and creating dementia-friendly health systems.
“Dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, is much more prevalent in older adults,” said Lee Jennings, M.D., a geriatrician with the OU College of Medicine who is leading the grant. “As the number of older Oklahomans increases, this disease will become more common. We don’t want people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers to become isolated. We want communities and healthcare systems that are friendly to people with cognitive impairment and memory loss. We want people to thrive as long as they can, as best they can, with the support that they need.”
The program will engage primary care clinics around the state, direct-care providers such as nursing home staff, organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association, and family members of people with dementia.
Officials say clinics can improve their environments by ensuring signs are understandable, exam tables are easy to use for older adults, and sensory aids like hearing amplifiers and large-print materials are available.
A dementia-friendly practice also means both clinical providers and staff can connect patients and families with community resources where they live. Support groups, for both caregivers and the person living with dementia, are often crucial in helping people cope. They also can help reduce the stigma that is still associated with the disease.
“We want to let people know that there are resources, and we don’t want caregivers to feel stigmatized,” Jennings said. “It can be isolating if caregivers don’t feel like they can go out into the community with their loved one. We want to help people live with dignity and be as independent as possible while they age with this disease.”