According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and by 2050, this number is expected to range from 11 to 16 million. South Florida is home to many who suffer from and care for those with Alzheimer’s. A primary goal of Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and Charles E. Schmidt College of Science is to research innovative approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of memory disorders. Many studies focus on new interventions designed to help individuals with memory problems to maintain the highest possible level of functioning. Additional studies focus on interventions designed to assist caregivers.
Spouses comprise the largest group of caregivers and have unique needs that must be addressed separately from other family caregivers. Healthy communication between older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and their spouse caregivers is critical to their well-being, yet conflict and distress often develop in these relationships. The spouse with Alzheimer’s disease experiences declining ability to communicate, and this breakdown is frustrating and stressful for both marital partners.
Christine Williams, D.N.S., C.N.S., B.C., recently studied marital relationships in older couples when a partner is diagnosed with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. The research took place at FAU’s Louis and Anne Green Memory and Wellness Center in Boca Raton. As part of the study, 15 couples received 10 weekly, in-home sessions of a communication intervention. The sessions included caregiver education using a program manual developed for the study and supervised practice. Each session was designed to assist caregivers to better understand their spouses’ declining communication abilities and to develop new approaches for communicating effectively. The goal for the person with Alzheimer’s disease was to maintain communication abilities as long as possible.
“An underlying assumption of the study is that it is possible to have a positive impact on the marital relationship despite the effects of a devastating illness such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said Williams.
Improved Care for the Elderly
To study improvements in quality of life and quality of health care services for older adults, the College of Nursing has joined the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine and other FAU Colleges in conducting multidisciplinary research via a new program on aging. Researchers are working with other universities, local organizations, and older adults and their caregivers in the community.
Conceptualized by Richard Reynolds, M.D., with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the program will be directed by Joseph Ouslander, M.D., professor, FAU’s College of Medicine and College of Nursing, and an internationally renowned geriatrician and geriatric researcher. His research interests include quality of long-term care, and he is working with a multidisciplinary team to develop and conduct major projects and studies, including:
1. A longitudinal study that focuses on the keys to successful aging in the older population in South Florida which will explore the science of how people can live better and longer, what health care professionals can do to contribute to quality aging, and what older people and their caregivers can do to enhance the quality of their aging.
2. A series of research projects examining the quality of health care services for older adults who are transitioning between different settings of care (e.g. moving from a hospital to a home). These studies will aim to improve the transition between care settings and the specific processes that nurses engage in to smooth these transitions.
3. Educational initiatives for students, health professionals and the lay public.
4. Development of model clinical care programs, including inpatient hospital consultation, outpatient geriatric assessment and care in post-acute care settings.
“The projects we undertake build upon our current knowledge, but they take it a step further by looking at care transition and other health issues,” said Ruth Tappen, Ed.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., professor and Christine E. Lynn Eminent Scholar. “The exciting outcome of all of this work is that we will know more about important aspects of health care and lifestyle that may reduce the chance of developing chronic illnesses and their complications, or memory disabilities.”