In the U.S. at least five million people suffer from age-related dementia, which manifests itself in many forms and is generally defined as a decline in cognitive performance. The stress from this disease, especially on caregivers, can be detrimental to health. Cathleen Connell, associate chair of the SPH Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, and Associate Professor Anne Mondro of the U-M Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, have been awarded an MCubed grant to explore the benefits of creativity through art on both caregivers and patients with age-related dementia. MCubed is a two-year seed-funding program designed to empower interdisciplinary teams of U-M faculty to pursue new initiatives with major societal impact. Connell and Mondro are also collaborating with Lydia Li, associate professor of social work, and Elaine Reed, bedside art coordinator U-M Health System’s Gifts of Art program. The six-week intervention Connell and Mondro have designed includes individual work with caregivers as well as collaborative exercises with both caregivers and patients. Connell explains that self-expression and creativity can have direct health benefits, and that “communication between caregiver and care recipient is often improved as part of an enjoyable shared activity.” Connell and Mondro hope the intervention will help determine whether art therapy can improve the quality of the caregiver/care recipient relationship, reduce distress, and ultimately support caregivers in their work. —Rachel Ruderman
Dementia Care Costs Among Highest of All Diseases
A comprehensive analysis recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that dementia care costs are among the highest of all diseases, reaching $159 to $215 billion annually in the U.S. This study was the result of a collaboration between researchers from the RAND Center for the Study of Aging and SPH Professor Kenneth M. Langa, a U-M physician and researcher. The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, suggests that the costs tied to dementia may be financially debilitating for patients and families.
Langa explains that the majority of costs result from “the long-term daily care and supervision provided by families and nursing homes, often for many years.” He continues, “Ignoring these long-term care costs that build up steadily day-after-day leads to a huge under-counting of the true burden that dementia imposes on our society.” The implications of this hefty financial burden, coupled with the emotional costs of this disease, suggest a burgeoning public health issue that will only become further exacerbated with the aging of the baby-boom generation.