Telehealth and Alzheimer's treatment

Mar 18, 2019 / Telemedicine in the news /
News Category: 
Telehealth may help more vulnerable populations receive the quality dementia care needed to maintain their health.

Every 65 seconds, an American citizen develops Alzheimer's, according to the Alzheimer's Association. About 5.7 million people in the country are currently living with Alzheimer's, and by 2050, that number is expected to rise to 14 million.

In terms of care, about 83 percent of help provided to those living with this debilitating disease is done by family members, friends or unpaid caregivers. But this Alzheimer's isn't only making an impact on those diagnosed and those providing care, the health care system is also feeling the pressure of Alzheimer's - the Alzheimer's Association reported that annual costs dedicated to the disease exceed a quarter of a trillion dollars on an annual basis. People living with this form of dementia generally stay in hospitals twice as much as older individuals, and they also make up the majority of those receiving long-term care in nursing homes.

As these alarming statistics surrounding Alzheimer's continue to rise, it's critical for more hospitals and facilities to think about alternative treatment options. Telehealth, for example, may help more vulnerable populations receive the quality dementia care needed to maintain their health while also reducing hospital re-admissions and long-term facility stays.

How telemedicine can transform Alzheimer's care

While traditional Alzheimer's care strongly relies on developing strong patient/provider relationships in a long-term health setting, telehealth solutions can make care more convenient to those who face common barriers to seeking treatment face-to-face. For example, a patient who lives in a rural area but can't find means of transportation to travel to a care center on a regular basis can still see a specialist from hundreds of miles away using telemedicine.

Telemedicine can connect Alzheimer's patients with specialists.Telemedicine can connect Alzheimer's patients with specialists.

Aging in place is another benefit of taking advantage of telemedicine, and this can be a critical aspect for someone living with Alzheimer's, as well as all family members involved. Research by the University of Iowa College of Nursing found that telehealth technology could be the solution to those wanting to continue aging in the comfort of their own homes. Even if mobile telehealth is unavailable, patients can still benefit from only traveling short distances to receive care instead of having to be admitted to hospitals on a regular basis or moved to a long-term nursing home facility.

The future of Alzheimer's telehealth

Telemedicine and telehealth are becoming more relevant aspects of the world of the modern healthcare system every day. As new research studies and pilot programs develop, more Alzheimer's patients may have the chance to receive quality care near home, which can also reduce pressure associated with family caregivers. One example comes from Oklahoma, where lawmakers are considering a bill that would help rural primary care providers treat Alzheimer's and dementia patients via telemedicine.

Senate Bill 437 introduced by Oklahoma State Senator Adam Pugh would enable a neurologist to teach rural primary care providers how to provide care to dementia patients. It states:

"The State Department of Health shall create a pilot program to train primary care physicians in rural areas on the diagnosing and treatment of Alzheimer's and dementia.  Under the program, the Department shall identify a neurologist, who may live in an urban area, to utilize Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) or another guided practice model to train and mentor rural primary care physicians. The neurologist shall not receive compensation."

If approved, this bill would create Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes) which is a global model of medical education and care management which directly connects expert specialists to primary care physicians via teleconferencing. The point of the project is to inform local communities and care providers with greater medical knowledge and skills needed to provide specialized care to rural areas and other vulnerable populations.

The Alzheimer's Association reported that there are currently 64,000 people in Oklahoma living with Alzheimer's. Research predicts that this number will grow to 76,000 by 2025. By supporting this bill, those living with the disease in rural areas will gain access to the care they need. As such, mHealthIntelligence highlighted that primary care physicians in rural communities would be able to focus their care on their patients, like distance specialists could care for the patients from afar.

The future of telemedicine and telehealth are bright. Continue following the AMD Global Telemedicine blog for more information on news in telehealth.

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