David Reuben, M.
Today, 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, including more than 480,000 people in California. Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia produce symptoms severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Caring for these patients is a complex undertaking, and patients sometimes fall through the cracks, says David Reuben, M.D., chief of the UCLA Division of Geriatrics, and director of the new UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program designed to provide comprehensive, patient- and family-centered care to those
affected by dementia.
“There are still gaps in the care provided to dementia patients,” says Dr. Reuben. “After the diagnosis, patients and their families suddenly find themselves in a situation in which they must face a debilitating, incurable disease with no idea how to access appropriate resources to help them through this journey.”
Dementia is caused by irreversible damage to brain cells. Symptoms include memory loss, communication and language difficulties, diminished reasoning and judgment and impaired visual perception. Some patients experience major personality and behavioral changes, including agitation, aggressiveness, depression or psychosis. Patients survive four to eight years, on average, following an Alzheimer’s diagnosis but may live much longer. The severity of problems increases as the disease progresses.
“Patients need to be continually monitored for complications,” explains Dr. Reuben. “At UCLA, we have excellent geriatrics, neurology, psychiatry, psychology and other clinical programs necessary in treating dementia, but patients need help getting to the right resources at the right time.”
The new program will serve as an entry point into dementia care at UCLA Health System, as well as to social-support and other community-based resources. Access to clinical and social-support services, as well as opportunities to participate in clinical trials, will be coordinated by a dementia-care manager with expertise in addressing the unique needs of patients and caregivers.
“I have met so many people who don’t know where to go next,” says Linda Ercoli, Ph.D., UCLA’s director of geriatric psychology. “Using this new model of care, we will guide them, educate them and support them so they don’t get lost along the way.”
Dr. Ercoli will coordinate the education and support components of the program, including a series of expert lectures on topics addressing the difference between senility and dementia, managing dementia with and without medication, long-term care planning, research and caregiver burnout. A new caregiver support group, Beyond Alzheimer’s, was founded by Dr. Ercoli and President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis. Nearly 50 percent of Alzheimer’s-disease caregivers eventually develop depression or other health problems.
“The caregiver support group is an incredibly powerful way for people to get in touch with their feelings, discuss problem-solving strategies and become more knowledgeable about the disease,” Dr. Ercoli says.