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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Groundbreaking Partnership Ensures Veterans and Caregivers Tap All Available Resources

July 22, 2008

HOUSTON – The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) has formed a groundbreaking partnership with the Houston Alzheimer’s Association to provide comprehensive services to veterans suffering from dementia or other memory-related illnesses, and possibly more significantly, to their caregivers.

The total veteran population with dementia, those enrolled in VA or not, is estimated at more than half a million, meaning that one out of every two veterans over 85 can expect to suffer from some form of dementia, be it Alzheimer's disease or other dementias.

“Partners in Dementia Care” is a VA initiative examining a new way to coordinate care for veterans with memory problems and the family and friends who help them. Care coordinators from the MEDVAMC and from the Alzheimer’s Association play pivotal roles in the implementation of medical and non-medical care plan components for both the veteran and the caregiver.

“The goal of this project is to think outside the box and take full advantage of all available community resources to help veterans and their caregivers improve their quality of life,” said Mark E. Kunik, M.D., M.P.H., Houston VA Center for Quality of Care and Utilization Studies associate director.

Barbara Kertz, MEDVAMC care coordinator for “Partners in Dementia Care,” usually makes the first contact with the patient and caregiver, focusing on medical issues such as cognitive status, co-existing medical conditions, medical adherence, difficult behaviors, anxiety, sleep disorders, and depression. She also ensures the caregiver has all necessary health information and has established communication with the patient’s health care providers.

With permission, Kertz contacts the Alzheimer’s Association care coordinator who then assists the patient and caregiver with non-VA community services to resolve legal and financial, safety and home environment, dyadic relationship strain, capacity to provide care, anxiety and depression, social isolation, and formal services and support issues.

“Our veterans with general dementia and memory-related problems and their families will significantly benefit from this innovative collaboration,” said Ray Love, M.D., MEDVAMC Primary Care staff physician. “It is important to note the care coordinators from the two agencies meet on a weekly basis to review and discuss all active cases.  When dementia affects a family, there are no easy solutions or overnight fixes.”

The partnership between the MEDVAMC and the Alzheimer’s Association already has played a critical role in one veteran’s life. A few months ago, Kertz contacted a family to take an initial assessment of their needs. The son told her the veteran had not returned as expected from a road trip. Kertz immediately put her “Partners in Dementia Care” resources to work. The Alzheimer’s Association care coordinator contacted Missing Persons, the National Crime Information, and the Safe Return program. The veteran was found and reconnected with his family. During a follow-up visit, Kertz gave the veteran and his family members detailed information and resource contacts about how to prevent this type of situation in the future and what to do if it does.

The MEDVAMC and the Houston Alzheimer’s Association plan to offer telephone support groups for caregivers of persons with dementia in the near future. These meetings will be open to the entire community. Seminars spotlighting relevant topics such as VA benefits have already been held.

The “Partners in Dementia Care” initiative is sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Houston Alzheimer’s Association, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Houston Alzheimer’s Association can be reached at 1.800.272.3900. For more information about “Partners in Dementia Care,” contact Brian Murry at (713) 794-8668 or murry@bcm.tmc.edu.

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