New Partnership Enlists U.Va. Students to Support Local Alzheimer's Patients

November 19, 2008 — University of Virginia students in the Curry School of Education's Communication Disorders program are now making house calls to six people in the community with memory loss, thanks to a $9,000 Academic Community Engagement grant provided by U.Va.'s Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

The grant supports the program's partnership with the Central and Western Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, which delivers home-programming support to individuals in the Charlottesville area with Alzheimer's-related dementia.

"The partnership is possible because the Alzheimer's Association is able to reach families in need of services, and the University of Virginia has a rich resource of talented undergraduate and graduate students," said J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic affairs.

U.Va. students plan to work with approximately 15 more people in the community with memory loss next semester. U.Va. School of Nursing undergraduate students will join Communication Disorders and Psychology Department students next semester to accommodate the expansion, said Curry assistant professor Barbara Braddock.

Braddock will oversee the venture along with Ellen Phipps, vice president of programs and services for the Central and Western Virginia Alzheimer's Association, and Dawn Rigney, assistant professor of nursing.

The students participate in an eight-week intervention period that includes two 60-minute home visits each week. They encourage people with memory loss to participate in activities based on Montessori educational principles that are purposeful, action-oriented and involve multi-sensory experiences, Braddock said. In addition, the students adapt each activity and provide the necessary level of support to limit errors and frustration.

Students also work with caregivers, encouraging them to modify the home environment by placing a calendar, clock and familiar photographs in visible locations, along with written words to cue memory, Braddock said.

The need for this partnership is clear, Braddock said. Dementia of the Alzheimer's type accounts for about 60 percent to 80 percent of dementia cases. Because the risk for developing the condition increases with age, the incidence of dementia is expected to rise dramatically in the coming decades as the "baby boomer" population ages.

"As a society faced with increased numbers of persons requiring substantial care, it makes good sense to advance care for persons with dementia through innovative solutions that are best sustained through families and communities," Braddock said.

The partnership hopes to provide caregivers with common-sense solutions that help people with dementia maintain cognitive functioning for as long as possible, which in turn may lead to more days at home prior to making a decision to place a family member in a nursing facility, Braddock said.

For people with memory loss, the instruction they receive may translate into increased participation in routine activities around the home, such as reading the newspaper, sketching a picture or folding laundry.

The partnership will also seek to measure the effectiveness of the cognitive intervention, Braddock said, and create networking and learning opportunities for the students who participate.

"This project reflects the Curry School's commitment to local partnerships that combine the expertise and interests of our faculty with local needs," said Curry School Dean Robert Pianta. "Our Communication Disorders faculty are very well-suited to support programs for individuals with Alzheimer's disease, and we are delighted that the University has supported this effort."

— By Rebecca Arrington