Today’s cell phones pack more punch than the computers that helped land astronauts on the moon. Beyond its assortment of applications,
a cell phone could be a lifesaver for an older adult suffering from dementia who is spiraling down to dangerous self-neglect.
Sabrina L. Pickens, PhD, RN, and Sandy M. Branson, PhD, RN, at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth are conducting a six-month pilot study of a modified telephone-based care program for homebound seniors with dementia who receive Meals on Wheels. The program is a modification of one used for veterans and their caregivers.
“We are testing whether the program could reduce caregiver burden and prevent overutilization of hospitalization and placement in long-term care for the recipient,” says Pickens, a member of UTHealth Consortium on Aging.
Texas has more than 3.6 million residents over the age of 65. As that number increases, so does the need to address the health care issues of this population, particularly for those requiring home-based care because they cannot perform basic tasks such as managing finances, preparing meals, and giving themselves medication.
In many cases, the informal caregiver—usually a family member or friend—is overwhelmed from juggling a full-time job and children or living in another state, which leads to depression and anxiety in the caregiver, Pickens says.
The UTHealth study will assess recipients and caregivers through questions that focus on several areas, including memory problems, sleep, depression, capacity to provide care, medications, and pain. Pickens’ team uses a web-based protocol to evaluate unmet needs and to provide information about resources and services that support those needs. They use the phone to follow up with the study participants.
“We hope this can identify the unmet needs of the caregiver and the recipient and link both to services that can help them,” Pickens says.
Results from the program could lead to a larger study and, eventually, to better outcomes for everyone involved.