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Over 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. FG Trade/Getty Images
  • A new study examined four dementia care interventions and found that non-pharmaceutical care models saved between $2,800 and $13,000 in costs.
  • Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s related dementias affect over 6 million Americans.
  • There is no cure for the disease.

​The conventional way of taking care of patients who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is believed to only involve medication, but now experts are looking at better ways to help care for people without relying solely on medication.

Although medications receive more public attention in comparison, non-medication therapies “are not associated with adverse events including hospitalizations and mortality,” according to a new study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

A new study looked at how programs that prioritize helping caregivers of people with dementia may help keep people out of the hospital and in better health.

Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s related dementias affect over 6 million Americans and it is considered to be one of the most costly diseases in the United States. Not only are there costs associated with the use of medication, but there’s a higher risk of these individuals having to use a nursing home, needing additional assistance, and also an increased risk of having to utilize an emergency room or hospital.

By using interventions that don’t require drugs, there’s an effort to reduce not only the cost burden of the illness but also the overall well-being of the patient.

This follows a push from major public health groups to help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia to get care while at their home

The new study examined four dementia care interventions through computer simulation models and found that non-pharmaceutical care models saved between $2,800 and $13,000 in societal costs.

These savings come by “reducing time spent caregiving and its associated cost and reducing the out-of-pocket spending – mostly through keeping people at home longer”, said Eric Jutkowitz, PhD, the study’s lead author and associate professor at Brown University’s School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island.

“Nursing home care can be very expensive and many people pay for it out of pocket”, he continued.

Jutkowitz’s team examined four interventions to understand the impact of these non-pharmaceutical interventions: Maximizing Independence at Home, New York University Caregiver, Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care, and Adult Day Service Plus.

These programs allow families to have the training, skills, and support they need to manage the challenges associated with caring for a loved one with dementia conditions.

According to a statement by Brown University, these interventions “have shown to improve quality of life for the caregiver and the person living with dementia, as well as to reduce nursing home admissions, and they are not associated with adverse events such as hospitalizations and mortality.”

​Further, these interventions were not only cost-effective from a societal perspective, but they also found that these interventions had little or no additional cost associated with them in comparison to traditional therapies like medications and these programs increase the quality of life of patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“The drug-discovery landscape for Alzheimer’s disease is littered with disappointments, but patients and families dealing with this disease should know that even though we don’t have perfect drugs for this disease, there is still a lot we can do to manage symptoms,” says Dr. Matthew Schrag, assistant professor of neurology at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

While these interventions do sound promising, there are some challenges in implementing them in the routine care of Alzheimer’s patients.

“They don’t fit well into the structure of our current healthcare system,” Jutkowitz tells Healthline.

Many Alzheimer’s interventions including medications are covered by insurance, however, there are still issues with people being able to access these interventions.

Some of the hurdles involve the availability and understanding of these interventions. Although these services make an impact on the lives of these patients, not all physicians are familiar with them.

Another issue is that there are very few means for healthcare providers to be paid or reimbursed for delivering these non-pharmaceutical interventions.

Also, there are no metrics or measurements in place to show the cost-benefit of using these non-pharmaceutical interventions.

“Medical providers and others who care for people with dementia likely haven’t heard about these programs – whereas they have heard of medication,” said Jutkowitz.

Jutkowitz and the other study authors promote that “health insurance policies should find ways to incentivize providers and health systems to implement non-pharmacological interventions” according to the press release.

By using all tools available, patient outcomes are likely going to be better.

“We should certainly make sure our patients have access to a broad range of tools, both medications and non-pharmacologic interventions. Patients do best when they stay physically, socially, and intellectually active; when non-pharmacological interventions can help with that, we should try them,” Schrag tells Healthline.

Although some may not know about these non-pharmacologic methods of taking care of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, one of the starting conversations can be with a patient’s physician. Asking them questions about other methods and community resources that may be available to them can be an introduction to not only reducing hospitalizations and expenses but increasing the comfort of these patients.­

Dr. Rajiv Bahl, is an emergency medicine physician, board member of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians, and health writer. You can find him at RajivBahlMD.com.