By KENDRA SITTON | Uptown News
For over a year, Glenner Centers in San Diego has been working on a program to make their assistance more accessible to family caregivers of people with dementia. The organization founded by UCSD Alzheimer’s researcher Dr. George G. Glenner and his wife Joy Glenner has operated a day care center in Hillcrest and other parts of San Diego for decades.
Many family caregivers needed more support tha
n just a few days of care per week so the organization began developing GLENNERCARE, a remote way for fulltime caregivers to access support. Conveniently, the rollout of the new program coincided with the shuttering of the regular care centers due to COVID-19.
Clients enrolled in the program have access to a 24/7 care team that helps to prevent and mitigate crises. The focus is to provide proactive and innovative care.
“What we’re trying to do is use technology in a way that we can prevent ER visits or visits to urgent care,” explained Tanya Navarro, a social worker for Glenner.
Caregivers can call a social worker at any time if someone with dementia is agitated or having an issue. The social worker assesses the situation, can help de-escalate the situation or connect the client to other resources, including healthcare professionals. In addition, patients’ vitals are monitored constantly so nurses call to check in if there are any abnormalities like an increased heart rate.
This happened to Mary Gross recently, who is the caregiver of her husband Ted.
“One day Ted’s pulse was very high. That was strange as I got a call from the nurse: ‘How is Ted feeling? what’s going on?’ And if there had been something wrong. They would have taken it to the next level and that would be calling our doctor,” Gross explained. “I feel like I’m covered… Rather than calling my son at three in the morning, I’d rather call them.”
76-year-old Gross also feels like Ted is receiving more personalized and adaptable care than if they were part of a big company.
“I really heard Tanya the social worker, say ‘Mary, I am here for you.’ And I know she is. I’m not just saying that. I can tell when somebody’s like ‘Yeah we’re definitely here for you. Call 1-800-pep-you-up,’” Gross said with a laugh.
Gross said Navarro spent an hour interviewing her to find out about their lifestyle, children and grandchildren.
“It’s so important to have that personal approach with every individual. Not all dementia is created equal,” Navarro said.
Before moving to Glenner, Navarro worked extensively in remote care for dementia patients before, primarily in Mexico while studying for her Master’s degree.
“When I was invited to participate in this project, I was very excited because I was already doing stuff that I really enjoy: using the internet as a platform to deliver services, to deliver support to those that those that are homebound,” she explained. “It felt right.”
Since the program began in tandem with the pandemic, Navarro said many caregivers struggling with isolation at home have come to depend on her. She is providing them with emotional support in a time when their contact with the outside world is limited.
Many caregivers have had their lives transformed to support another person. Gross and her husband used to travel on cruises regularly. Her husband Ted served in Vietnam before becoming a computer program developer who made jewelry. His eyesight faded enough so that he can no longer read.
“There was nothing he couldn’t do before. The Ted before and the Ted currently are two different people,” Gross said. “As a primary caregiver, it was, to say the least, a challenge for me because I didn’t know what to expect each day, in terms of his personality.”
In addition to enrolling in GLENNERCARE, they also hired an in-home caregiver to spend a few days per week with Ted, further relieving the stress Gross was under.
“It’s been a big change for me. Having that and GLENNERCARE has made a huge difference in my life,” she said.
The telehealth from GLENNERCARE is covered by Medicare so Gross accesses it for free, although there are private options.
“I feel like this is going to be a big help not only to me, but to other people,” Gross said. “I hope it goes national because in the middle of the night, you don’t want to have to have 9-1-1 be the first call you have to make.”
— Kendra Sitton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.