When it comes to dementia, few things matter more than timely detection and proper diagnosis. Yet these vital supports are often lacking.
That is why a new paper by the Milken Institute’s Future of Aging and our Alliance to Improve Dementia Care is so important. The report – Building Workforce Capacity to Improve Detection and Diagnosis of Dementia – highlights specific ways our health and long-term care systems can better meet the needs of older adults and their caregivers who have concerns about brain health.
Three main themes stand out in the study, which AARP helped support. These takeaways focus on:
- Promoting prompt detection of cognitive impairment in primary care settings. Various obstacles, including lack of adequate training, often stand in the way.
- Increasing awareness of health care professionals and consumers on brain health issues. This approach can reduce stigma, risks and costs, while also improving care.
- Broadening access to services and improving professional coordination in detection, diagnosis and delivery of care.
For reasons we all understand, the goal of curing dementia has long been the Number One priority of brain health experts, but unfortunately, we are not there yet. The great value of our new report is to broaden the framework by spotlighting the unmet needs of individuals and caregivers who are living with cognitive issues right now. These people – millions of them – face a health- and long-term care system that often does less than it could to help them live as successfully as possible.
Individuals who experience lapses in memory want to know if something is wrong or if it is just normal aging. They want to know where to go for expert guidance and care. If they have a problem, they wish to understand what is going to happen next, and what steps they should be taking in preparation. Yet typically, there is no discernable path to follow. Family caregivers also must contend with these concerns.
Our new report provides tools and guidance for health care providers who want to deal more effectively with all these issues. As one example, I would cite the GSA KAER Toolkit, which can help primary care teams take a holistic approach to brain health care, including sensitive conversations, detection and diagnosis.
At AARP we often hear from our own members about the uncertainties they face with brain health. That is why AARP supports the Alliance to Improve Dementia Care, which is dedicated to transforming the systems that people concerned about dementia must navigate. We recognize that people want to do what they can to help themselves. For that need AARP offers Staying Sharp, a lifestyle program to maintain brain health that was cited in the new report. AARP research, including our 2020 study of Caregiving in the United States, also helped guide the workforce paper. (I have the honor of serving on the steering committee for the Alliance’s new report.)
One day society will reap the benefits of a cure for dementia. In the meantime, we need to make a much higher priority of supporting individuals and caregivers who are managing cognitive challenges. Timely detection and diagnosis are critical. Establishing a dementia-capable workforce – equipped to address the varied needs of individuals and caregivers across the continuum of care – is a way to achieve those goals.
This new report shows how to move the workforce forward, with meaningful benefits to our quality of life.