Younger Generations Now Forced to Care for Alzheimer’s Patients

Caregiver ‘boot camp’ provides the knowledge they need for the challenges ahead

(LOS ANGELES, California) – The number of people with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. is expected to nearly triple over the next 30 years according to the Alzheimer’s Association. As the need for caregivers grows, younger family members are finding themselves in a role for which they often are ill-prepared to handle. So experts at UCLA Health developed the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Boot camp to prepare them for the challenges of the progressive disease.

    “Alzheimer’s caregiving is a full-time job because there are always risks present at any time of the day or night. They have to be vigilant to prevent things like wandering or falling, while helping with everyday tasks like dressing a patient and preparing meals,” said Dr. Zaldy Tan, Medical Director of the UCLA Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program. “This responsibility can be emotionally and physically taxing, so the goal of the boot camp is to give them the best tools to manage their role.”

    Dr. Tan says participants in the boot camp are becoming more diverse as more families share the burden of caregiving. One in four caregivers is now under the age of 34, and the number of male caregivers rose six percent in just six years. The boot camp can help ensure that everyone who contributes is confident in their ability to keep their loved one safe and comfortable. “We are all potential caregivers,” said Tan. “Therefore, we should all be prepared to step into that role if and when we’re called upon to do so.”

    To reinforce what they’ve learned, boot camp participants finish their day working with professional actors who are trained to react as someone with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. They role-play common scenarios and use different techniques to deal with difficult situations, such as a patient becoming confused or agitated.

    “A lot of caregivers are unsure about the skills that they have acquired throughout the day. But once they are able to act out these scenarios, they find that they have not only learned these techniques, but they’re actually able to apply them,” said Tan. “Interacting with an actor who behaves as a dementia patient allows them put their skills into practice before they are faced with having to use them at home.”

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Cyndi Ramirez (right) and her daughter visit with their mother and grandmother, who has dementia. Cyndi helps take care of her mother and attended the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Boot Camp at UCLA Health to develop her skills as a caregiver.

Dr. Zaldy Tan gives feedback to caregivers during a role-playing session at UCLA Health’s Alzheimer’s Caregiver Boot Camp. Professional actors are used to practice techniques for taking care of patients with dementia.

Bucky Schmidt helps his wife, Diane, take her medication at their home in Los Angeles, CA. Schmidt recently attended the Alzheimer’s Caregiver Boot Camp at UCLA Health to learn how to handle the demands that come with taking care of someone with dementia.

An actor (right), trained to play a patient with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, role plays with a participant at UCLA Health’s Alzheimer’s Caregiver Boot Camp.

Dr. Zaldy Tan fields questions from participants at UCLA Health’s Alzheimer’s Caregiver Boot Camp. Tan helped develop the program, which teaches skills and techniques to those who have taken on the responsibility of caring for a loved one with dementia.

Bucky Schmidt (left) and Cyndi Ramirez (right) share the task of caring for their wife and mother, who suffers with dementia. Both are more confident in their ability to care for her after attending UCLA Health’s Alzheimer’s Caregiver Boot Camp.

UCLA Health