On May 3, 2018, health care clinicians and administrators met in Los Angeles for the California Dementia Healthcare Summit. The Summit focused on improving clinical care and support for dementia-type illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, through physician provider groups and community agencies.
The reality of Alzheimer’s
“Alzheimer’s disease is one of the top 10 causes of death in the country, but it is the only one without a cure, and without a way to slow or stop the progression of the disease,” said California Dementia Healthcare Summit host, Jennifer Schlesinger, MPH, CHES, director of professional training and healthcare services at Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles. “Families are affected significantly by the disease and, without there being a cure on the near horizon, it’s important that we’re here as an organization to make sure families are aware of the disease, and have the support they need to navigate through this difficult process.”
Health Net’s Silver sponsorship
This is precisely why Health Net joined with Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles (ALZGLA) as a Summit sponsor. Together, the companies can address the challenge to identify those at risk for dementia by using ALZGLA-developed tools created for care management professionals.
“Our goal,” explained Schlesinger, “is to have these leaders begin the process of implementing, within their organization, the cutting-edge tools and strategies that we shared at the Summit to improve geriatric dementia clinical care.”
Health Net providers can help identify risk for and symptoms of dementia
And, with ALZGLA’s help, Health Net care managers can be more proactive in identifying members who are at risk for dementia-related diseases.
Anita Chacon-Terry, manager of Care Management at Health Net, said that Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles recently provided staff dementia training using their Alzheimer’s–Dementia 8 Question (AD8) evaluation tool.
“We use the tool to better identify members who might be exhibiting possible signs of dementia,” explained Chacon-Terry. “The score from the AD8 tool helps to identify members who should be evaluated further by a physician. ALZGLA trained us on the tool, then we were able to integrate it into our regular assessment, making it part of the routine with our members who might be having dementia symptoms.”
What exactly is dementia?
Dementia is not one disease. It is a term used to describe a group of symptoms that interfere with brain functions like memory, language, problem solving, focus and self-management. This means loss of memory, reasoning and even behavioral or social abilities — enough to interfere with daily living.
Why does this happen?
Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. Occasionally, this damage is from a head injury, brain tumors, infections, hormone disorders and nutritional deficiencies. In some of these cases, treatment of the condition can cause a regression of dementia.
However, there are types of dementia that become worse over time and are irreversible. This includes Alzheimer’s disease, the most common dementia and for which the cause is unknown. Unfortunately, there isn’t a test to diagnose dementia. It takes a careful observation, lab tests and a detailed medical history to see physical and behavioral differences in the patient over time.
Is dementia preventable?
While the chances of developing dementia increase with age, it is not part of the normal aging process. However, adopting some daily habits, such as exercising regularly and getting at least eight hours of sleep each night, can help lower your risk for dementia. It’s also a good idea to:
- Protect your head. Wear helmets during sports, wear your car seatbelt and make sure your home doesn’t have dangerous areas where you could slip and fall.
- Maintain a healthy diet (and body weight). Eat heart-healthy and find out how to keep high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol at bay. This is beneficial for the brain, and could help lower risk for dementia.
- Be smoke-free. Smoking harms your lungs, heart and blood circulation, putting you at greater risk for developing dementia.
- Visit your doctor. Make and keep your doctor’s appointments. Stay in regular communication with your doctor.
- Engage your brain. You work out your body regularly (hopefully), but it’s also important to work out your brain out, too. Word games, puzzles, reading and learning something new (like a language or musical instrument) all help keep your brain active.
- Be social. Isolation is unhealthy for your mood, and your brain. Maintain your social relationships and create new ones: volunteer, join a club, take a class or re-connect with friends online.
Since lifestyle and current health can have an effect on brain functions, putting the above efforts into action can help strengthen the brain, boost mood and lower risks for dementia symptoms.
“We at Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles try to raise awareness about dementia and make sure people understand that it’s not a just normal part of aging,” says Schlesinger. “And when they have concerns, it’s important to bring those concerns to their healthcare provider.”
The possibility of dementia can be a frightening thought for many going into the later years of their lives. With Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles’ awareness efforts and their partnerships with healthcare providers and agencies, we can ensure fewer people become at risk in the future for these debilitating diseases.
Contact your physician and make an appointment if you have any questions or concerns about dementia for yourself or a family member.
Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles is here to support Health Net members dealing with dementia. Please call the helpline at 844-HELP-ALZ (844-435-7259) for more information.