$1M Grant to Address Dementia Issues in San Antonio

The WellMed Charitable Foundation and UT Health School of Nursing, along with other partners, are in the planning stages of a dementia initiative in San Antonio that will be funded by a grant worth nearly $1 million over three years.

“This is a game-changer for our community,” Carole White, a professor at the UT Health School of Nursing, said recently on the Caregiver SOS podcast.

The grant increases the dementia capability of San Antonio. So, what does that mean?

“If we’re going to be an age-friendly city, first of all, we can’t be that without addressing dementia,” White said. “We know that one out of three people over (age) 85 have some form of dementia. Our aging community is much more likely to have dementia than a younger group.”

It’s about addressing the stigma associated with the disease and, in the process, improving a community’s dementia capability, say White and other experts such as WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial.

“Until we start talking about dementia, and start realizing that people diagnosed with dementia are not what we think of—which is someone incapacitated and in stages—they are living with dementia,” White said.

The grant addresses three areas.

1. Help identify people living alone with dementia.

Patients and members of UT Health clinics and WellMed senior centers, respectively, living alone with Alzheimer’s will be identified using new sets of protocols.

“There are a lot of people who have mild cognitive impairment, early stages, and there is a point where they are no longer safe,” Zernial said. “For us, to change the way we look at people and practice and ID folks, to me this is one of the biggest take aways from getting these grant funds to develop these protocols to ID the people.”

White called them tools. For example, she said, “getting a social worker in to look at safety in the home. Is the stove being left on? Are they going out to get the food they need? So, somebody really doing an assessment of their environment. We often don’t do that.”

2. Assisting people with intellectual or development disabilities who have Alzheimer’s or who are at risk of developing some form of dementia.

“This group is at very high risk,” White said. “We never said it in the past, but with better medical care, people live longer, unfortunately, to develop a form of dementia on top of their intellectual disability.”

“This is an under-studied and, I think, under-cared for group,” she added.

Part of the strategy, Zernial said, is keeping them active and engaged in fun activities, and a partnership with Morgan’s Wonderland will help in this effort.

“People with Alzheimer’s and caregivers should have fun at least once a day,” Zernial said.

3. Focussing on family caregivers with people living with dementia.

About 60 percent of caregivers will experience some kind of behavioral symptoms that are difficult for them, such as resisting care or being agitated.

The grant will focus on an evidence-based intervention, working with family caregivers on identifying triggers, or the root, of the behavioral symptoms. Then they’ll be able to better manage the symptoms.

“The intervention we’re using is based on a model that behavioral symptoms are unmet needs with people with dementia,” White said. “Maybe they have a urinary tract infection or they’re dehydrated—addressing that … Maybe it’s something in the environment (like) clutter. Or, maybe it’s a very boring environment.”

Zernial expanded on White’s point.

“We know the medications don’t work well, and if they do work, they work for a limited amount of people for a limited amount of time,” Zernial said. “We can really improve the situations by looking at the environment and looking at those triggers.”

For more about the grant, listen to the complete episode.