Dr. Steve Bonsera.

Dr. Steve Bonsera.

Hundreds of Iowans who care for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease are being sought for a study that aims to improve the lives of those caregivers — and the patients.

Dr. Steve Bonasera, a geriatrician in Omaha-Council Bluffs, says 62,000 Iowans now have Alzheimer’s and the number is expected to grow to 73,000 in just over a decade.

“Medicare is looking at the future and they realize that they’re going to be spending a lot of money on caregiving and on Alzheimer’s disease in the next 50 years,” Bonasera says. “They want to be able to spend this money as efficiently as possible and at the same time, get people the best sorts of outcomes they can.” Dr. Bonasera is a researcher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which is among two hospitals in the nation splitting a ten-million dollar grant from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation.

Most family members who care for Alzheimer’s patients do so with little or no resources or training. The goal of the study is to help caregivers by lowering stress levels and providing tools needed to provide the necessary care. “Our hope is that in doing this, we will allow caregivers to feel more self-confidence, more competence in their ability to take care of their loved ones, more resilience, and to help the caregivers take better care of themselves,” Bonasera says.

As many as 900 families in Iowa and Nebraska will be enrolled in the research project. “We have very, very broad eligibility rules,” he says, “so almost all families are going to be able to probably participate.” He says if caregivers learn to cope better, patients can stay in their homes longer before moving into skilled care. As part of the study, the Dementia Care Ecosystem is a family-centered model that provides around-the-clock, online education and consultation for patients and their families.

“We’re giving them some very inexpensive off-the-shelf technology, Android watches and cell phones,” Bonasera says. “We’ve programmed them to basically measure people’s functional status.” One goal is to create a virtual care system that is supportive enough to protect the mental and physical health of caregivers.

For more information about the study, call (402) 559-6117. The Alzheimer’s Association predicts by 2050, nearly 14-million Americans over 65 will have Alzheimer’s.