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UConn to Offer New Online Graduate Certificate in Dementia Care, First in State

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Connecticut by the Numbers
Connecticut by the Numbers
 2021-05-14

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UConn is launching a new certificate in dementia care.Cade Martin / CDC image

More than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia and, in the absence of effective medical intervention, the number of people living with dementia of all types is expected to increase to approximately 14 million by the year 2060.

Experts describe it as an ongoing public health crisis for which treatment is limited – there remains no cure, and as the number of Alzheimer’s patients grows, so does the shortage of skilled professionals to care for those in need.

In recent weeks, a range of potentially promising treatments in various stages of investigation have been in the news, but nothing game-changing has yet to be determined. Despite as many as 200 studies now are underway in various stages, and what’s most likely, observers say, is that it will be some time before significant progress is achieved.

The UConn School of Nursing is responding to the growing need for skilled caregivers, with plans to launch a new online graduate certificate in Dementia Care, which will begin admitting students this fall.

The interdisciplinary three-semester, 12-credit fully online program is designed to help not just nurses but a broad range of health care professionals improve the care of persons living with dementia and Alzheimer’s. It is the culmination of more than five years of work by Christine DiLeone, an assistant clinical professor in the School of Nursing, Director of International Programs, and the program coordinator for the new certificate, UConn Today reported this month.

The new graduate certificate consists of three courses that will be offered both synchronously and asynchronously.

  • The first will focus on disease trajectory and management, including pathophysiology and clinical trials related to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
  • The second course focuses on supporting, educating, assessing, and guiding families and caregivers of people living with dementia – a critical component of comprehensive dementia care, with some 11 million Americans currently providing unpaid care to people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
  • The third course introduces students to common behaviors of people with dementia and teaches important skills for communicating, interacting, and providing care as well as non-pharmacological interventions.

“I have my own experiences with my mom with Alzheimer’s, but it was in a clinical setting with nursing students that I realized we have a gap in care as I observed the students caring for a patient with dementia,” DiLeone told UConn Today. “She was very scared and wanted to go home; the students really didn’t know how to communicate with her, because it’s a very different type of care.”

At the time, DiLeone used resources from the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to help teach her cohort of clinical students how to interact with the patient. But the experience alerted her to a greater need that she hopes the new program will help to fill.

“We are doing the health care profession such a disservice when we ask them to care for this population and we don’t educate them,” she explains. “Several studies show that when you offer training and education, it’s going to improve outcomes, and it’s going to improve quality of life, but we have a severe training shortage in dementia care in our country.”

“The School of Nursing proudly serves the citizens of Connecticut and responds to their changing health care needs,” emphasizes UConn School of Nursing Dean Deborah Chyun. “In this case, we saw an opportunity to improve care for the growing number of people with dementia and provide health care professionals with the option to diversify their skill set. Students in the program will be exposed to innovative techniques from experts in multiple fields.”

Connecticut’s population is the 7th oldest in the nation, with demographic trends suggesting the number of people in the senior population will continue to grow in greater proportion to young residents of the state.

The new UConn certificate in Dementia Care pursues a holistic approach that addresses the public health priority and growing need for dementia care education, DiLeone noted. It also features faculty and guest presenters from the School of Nursing, UConn Health Center on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter, Johns Hopkins University, Hartford HealthCare, and the University of Colorado.

DiLeone noted that “two-thirds of caregivers are women, and one-third of those are daughters. Women play an enormous role in caregiving, and they’re a set of people that we really need to focus on, because they have a lot of unmet needs – emotionally, physical, medically, and financially. They need support.”

While the new certificate originates from the School of Nursing, DiLeone told UConn Today that the program’s interdisciplinary approach is important because nurses and other health care workers are constantly working collaboratively to address patient needs.

“It’s not just nurses who are taking care of people with dementia,” she observed. “Social workers, physical therapists, health care administrators, occupational therapists – there are so many different professions that are caring for and coming into contact with people with this disease, and they really need to have expertise in it.”

More information and enrollment details are available at dementia-care.online.uconn.edu.