UGA provides Alzheimer’s education to Georgia primary care providers

On a cold sunny morning in early February, over 100 health and medical professionals from across the state of Georgia gathered at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center and online to learn more about screening, diagnosing and providing long-term care for dementia.

The program was led by physicians and scientists from Cognitive Aging Research and Education (CARE) Center, which is housed within the University of Georgia College of Public Health, in partnership with Piedmont Athens Regional Health System (PAR).

The CARE Center’s mission is to connect all communities in the state of Georgia with high-quality, person-centered dementia education, support and clinical services.

“The CARE Center is a team of clinicians, scientists, educators, former and current caregivers, and advocates who are passionate about changing how we think about and live with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Lisa Renzi-Hammond, a neuroscientist who specializes in cognitive aging and co-director of the CARE Center. “We envision a world where all of us have the tools we need to do better for our patients and families.”

More than 6.5 million Americans today are living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia (ADRD), a number that is expected to double in the next 30 years, and people living with dementia are facing a constellation of symptoms that will alter their behaviors, relationships and ability to function normally.

The complexity of the disease requires expertise that touches individuals before and during their care journey. This includes geriatrics, neuroscience, pharmaceuticals, psychology and social work – as a start.

That’s why expanding dementia care education, especially among primary care providers, is critical, said Renzi-Hammond.

“Medical professionals need to have the knowledge and feel empowered to provide the best possible care for our aging populations,” she said.

February’s program focused on how to differentiate between normal aging and dementia, best practices for cognitive screening, pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical options to manage behaviors, and strategies for long-term disease and behavior management.

Topics were chosen based on conversations the CARE team has had with hundreds healthcare providers working in the local Athens community and in the rural communities CARE serves. Each presentation was tailored to meet the knowledge and skill gaps that they identified.

Sixty-five of the medical professionals shared their feedback on the program, and they reported that they planned to change the way they practice because of the education they received, in particular the training on brain health and caregiver empowerment. They also felt that these changes would have a major impact on care in their communities.

“The growing number of people over 60 years of age is outpacing all other age groups combined, so we are fortunate to have extraordinary local experts in the field of gerontology to provide continuing education for our health care professionals,” said Elaine Cook, PAR Foundation Director.

This program was inspired by the communities that the CARE Center serves – their questions, their needs, their patients’ needs, said Cook and Renzi-Hammond.  THE CARE Center’s next step is to take this curriculum on the road to other CARE communities.

– Lauren Baggett

Posted March 25, 2024.