Recent Developments in Improving Care for Dementia Patients Announced

In the past week, a law was enacted in Massachusetts to improve the care of dementia patients in long-term care facilities, while the results of a study on a home-based program of treatment for dementia patients was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association annual meeting. Although the two developments approach caring for individuals with dementia in different settings, each focuses attention on providing quality care to improve the lives of this growing population.

On July 16, 2012, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed “An Act Providing for Dementia Specific Training for Certain Employees of Long-Term Care Facilities”  (H. 3947) into law to improve the quality of care for dementia patients by establishing regulations to specify minimum safety and quality standards for dementia care units in long-term care facilities and requiring dementia-specific training for staff in long-term care facilities, according to a Massachusetts press release.

The Massachusetts legislature passed the Act to address the increased level of dementia among residents of long-term care facilities, declaring it an “emergency law” necessary for the immediate preservation of public health. Over 120,000 people in Massachusetts have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, according to Representative Alice Wolf. The law will make information available to families about what is really special about special care units, Wolf added. “This legislation will improve the quality of life for patients and ease the burden on families, too,” Governor Patrick said. 

The Act requires the state Department of Public Health, in consultation with the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and representatives from the nursing home provider community, must issue regulations no later than January 1, 2013, establishing minimum standards for dementia special care units to ensure safety and quality of services, including:

  • dementia-specfic training for all direct care workers, activities directors and supervisors of direct care workers in both traditional nursing homes and dementia special care units;
  • activities programs in dementia special care units that provide dementa-specific activities; and
  • guidelines for dementia special care unit physical design including, but not limited to, ani-wandering methods and promoting a therapeutic environment.

Licensed providers of special services and programming for dementia care units in long-term care facilities that hold themselves out to the public or advertise that they provide such services must meet the standards set out under the Act. Nursing homes that operate dementia special care units must disclose to consumers and the state Department of Public Health the specialized services the dementia special care unit provides for patients affected by Alzheimer’s and related dementias. In addition, licensed facilities that do not hold themselves out to the public or advertise that they are providers of specialized services and programming for dementia special care units in long-term care facilities also must provide dementia specific training for all direct care workers, activities directors, and supervisors of direct care workers.

On the heels, of this Act addressing dementia-specific training for staff members of long-term care facilities, the results of a recent study that “tested the effectiveness of home-based care for 18 months more than 300 people over the age of 70 who had mental impairments, most commonly dementia,” was presented to the Alzheimer’s Association annual meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia on July 18, 2012, according to HealthDay Reporter. A team made up of a nurse, a psychiatrist, and a care coordinator, who acts as team leader start the program with a home visit at which the team determines the person’s needs and counsels the person and his or her caregiver. The care coordinator follows up at least once a month, depending on the person’s needs.

The program for at home care was developed by Quincy Miles Samus, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and her colleagues. Although Samus found that the home-based system of care for people with dementia has potential to reduce cost and improve care and quality of life of mildly mentally impaired individuals, the researchers’ number one goal is to gather sufficient evidence for health care insurers such as Medicare to determine whether they would pay for such care, as reported by HealthDay Reporter. Learn more about the study.