Focus and Health Care

Summit encourages West Michigan to rethink dementia

National thought leaders gather in GR to discuss innovative programming.

July 3, 2015
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More than 120 community members and leaders from health care, business, philanthropy, education and research gathered at a day-long inaugural summit recently to envision and foster a collaborative and dementia-friendly culture in West Michigan.

The Rethinking Dementia, Accelerating Change summit took place at MSU’s Secchia Center and featured thought leaders with expertise in a variety of fields related to dementia, aging and cognitive changes who are bridging the gap between traditional practices and innovative programming.

Featured presenters sharing their practices and programs included Christopher Nadeau, executive director of the New York Memory Center; Leisa Easom, executive director of Rosalynn Carter Institute; Dr. Peter Rabins, faculty member of the UMBC Management of Aging Services Program at The Erickson School; David Gehm, national board chair at Leading Age; Michelle Barclay, executive co-lead at the Minnesota ACT on Alzheimer’s; and Jed Levine, executive vice president and director of programs and services at the Alzheimer’s Association New York City.

Joy Spahn, regional director for the Greater Michigan Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said the presenters brought evidence-based programs to the table and each of the sessions provided an opportunity for discussion.

“They have all been programs and services that basically have some meat to the bone. There has been some evidence and they show best practices and the types of programs proven to be successful,” said Spahn.

She said each session was comprised of a facilitator and three or four of the thought leaders, who discussed the application of things they’ve learned, programs they’ve started and how those can be applied within the community.

A collaborative event with more than 30 organizations from different industries sponsoring and supporting it, Spahn said Rethinking Dementia, Accelerating Change was spearheaded by Clark Retirement Communities upon receiving financial support from a family member of one of the residents.

“The idea was to help educate and to move the community a little bit more forward in recognizing how to help folks with cognitive changes,” said Spahn. “As a result, they wound up visiting and researching across the country and identifying leaders in the area of dementia services.

“There is a broad spectrum of services all the way from technology to visual and musical art, to caregiver education, to reaching out to caregivers for support through things like telephone and Internet.”

Brian Pangle, president and CEO of Clark Retirement Community, said the journey in developing the summit began roughly 18 months ago, thanks to a caregiver and spouse of a resident living with dementia at Clark.

“(He) challenged and funded us to search out and investigate the foremost organizations and thought leaders from around the U.S. and bring their knowledge, insight and expertise to bear here in West Michigan,” said Pangle during the opening address at the summit. “(It) is about envisioning, innovating and accelerating change through the strategic community-wide conversation.”

By bringing thought leaders from across the country into the same room as experts and innovators, Spahn said the summit provided a chance to learn what challenges other organizations have faced in implementing and sustaining their programs.

“It is exciting to have something going, but when the honeymoon is over and the rubber meets the road, sometimes it becomes very challenging, and we are aware of that,” said Spahn. “There is also some planning taking place for next steps and how we implement, and how do you narrow down where your initial focus is going to be.”

Presenter Kimberly Brennsteiner, director of programs for New York City-based Older Adults Technology Services, or OATS, said she was invited to the conference to speak about leveraging innovation and technology to address challenges.

“A special part of this summit is pulling people and leaders from many parts of the whole ecosystem of aging — so not just traditional social service oriented, but also from business and community,” said Brennsteiner.

“Since we are all working to address specific challenges as to how to make a healthier, more inclusive society for people … I think that type of sharing and collaboration among people who may not have sat in the same room together and discussed in this kind of environment is going to be very rewarding across the board in terms of really thinking about new paradigms for how we can address challenges in the aging field.”

Established in 2004, OATS leverages technology to change the way people age and has developed its own technology and training infrastructure, constructed a technology-themed center for older adults and partnered with other organizations to address challenges.

Speaking during the inspiration, innovation and integration session, Brennsteiner said she hoped to communicate that investments made to introduce technology in different capacities to aging adults have a return on investment and improve the quality of life for the individual.

Currently, approximately 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and that number is expected to increase to roughly 16 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association March 2015 factsheet. Direct costs of caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s are expected to total roughly $226 billion in 2015, with 50 percent of the costs carried by Medicare. 

“Businesses are starting to become more interested in it because of the impact it has on families. This is the first time in history people are spending more time losing time from work taking care of aging parents than they are taking care of kids,” said Spahn.

“We have had a number of people in their late 50s and 60s cross our path, and those have entirely different financial implications for families because many of those folks are still employed. They might have children at home, they might have children in college, and it impacts their retirement.”

In Kent County alone, there are roughly 10,000 people with dementia and 31,000 residents serving as caregivers. With an average annual cost for health care and long-term care of more than $47,700, the cumulative cost of caring for people with dementia in Kent County is approximately $472 million, according to data from the Alzheimer’s Association, American Community Survey and Alzheimer’s Society Dementia 2013 Report.

“Grand Rapids has been called a hidden jewel for a long time, and I think the significance of this is we pulled the community together. We have been able to bring in different parties generally interested in making Grand Rapids an even better place to live,” said Spahn.

“Grand Rapids has been known for its family-friendly community, and our seniors and folks with dementia are still part of the family.”

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