UNC faculty receive grants to fund studies of families caring for Alzheimer’s patients

January 23, 2004
CHAPEL HILL — Improving care for people suffering from the degenerative condition known as Alzheimer’s disease is the goal of a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty member and colleagues who have received two grants totaling more than $600,000 from the Alzheimer’s Association and GlaxoSmithKline.The researchers plan to determine what interventions and training might best help families trying to cope with the debilitating, progressive memory loss in loved ones, as well as help families recognize symptoms and seek earlier diagnoses. Medically underserved counties across North Carolina will be the chief targets.

“About 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, which strikes one in 10 people over age 65 and nearly half of those over age 85,” said Dr. Peggye Dilworth-Anderson, director of the Center for Aging and Diversity at UNC’s Institute on Aging and professor of health policy and administration in the School of Public Health. “The illness is a growing problem since more Americans are living to older ages, and the proportion of people over 65 will continue to increase for several decades.”

Many families have no idea what to do when the illness appears, a time when formerly vibrant people — often with little or no outside medical help — evolve into shadows of their former selves, Dilworth-Anderson said.

Using funds from the Alzheimer’s Association grant, she and colleagues will study how families understand and define symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s, she said. The GlaxoSmithKline support will allow them to conduct a two-part project composed of dementia caregiving training and a caregiver intervention study.

“The first phase will involve a series of interactive half-day training sessions to share knowledge and skills related to taking better care of these people,” Dilworth-Anderson said. “Trainees will be certified through the Eastern North Carolina Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Our second phase will help the new trainees provide useful information to people who take care of others with Alzheimer’s or related dementias,” she said.

Part of the effort will be a study that looks at knowledge about normal aging, dementia and its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, caregiving, family dynamics, handling problem behaviors and getting help, Dilworth-Anderson said. The UNC scientists will compare groups getting the specialized information with other groups who do not receive it until later to learn how big a difference the training can make.

The project will take place in Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen, Greene, Harnett, Hertford, Hoke, Jones, Martin, Richmond, Robeson, Sampson and Scotland counties.

“This study represents our commitment to supporting research and scholarship that serves the community,” said Mary Linda Andrews, director of GlaxoSmithKline’s Community Partnership Program.

“Dr. Dilworth-Anderson’s research directly addresses the Alzheimer’s Association’s desire to understand the complexities of race and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Jennie Ward Robinson, director of medical and scientific affairs at the association. “Her work will contribute to developing strategies targeting culturally diverse families in ongoing research on Alzheimer’s disease.”

For more information about the illness, including research and treatment, call the Alzheimer’s Association at (800) 272-3900 or visit www.alz.org. The association is the largest private funder of Alzheimer’s disease research in the country having awarded more than $150 million to nearly 1,300 projects.

With North American operations based in Research Triangle Park, N.C., and Philadelphia, GlaxoSmithKline is one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and health-care companies.

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This news release was researched and written by David Williamson of University News Services.

School of Public Health Contact: Lisa Katz, (919) 966-7467

News Services Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596