LSU's Wilks awarded $3.73 million for Alzheimer's Care

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

LSU School of Social Work in partnership with Ochsner Health System, Chamberlain University College of Nursing and Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area in Baton Rouge is proud to announce a 5-year, $3.73 million initiative to improve the quality of life for Louisiana residents and families living with Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, or ADRD. Since its inception in 2014, this federal grant program has approved 92 proposals. The LSU School of Social Work is one of only three social work programs nationally to receive this funding recognition.

By 2030, older Americans will account for nearly 30 percent of the nation's populace. In the coming decades, demand is expected to increase exponentially for health care professionals who treat and care for older adults, including multidisciplinary, integrated teams in primary care settings. This innovative grant program will combine and train three disciplines: social workers, nurses and physicians.

Funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, the program titled, Louisiana Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program, or LA-GWEP: Improving the Quality of Integrated Primary Care among Persons with Dementia and Caregivers, is committed to enhancing dementia-friendly integrated practice in Louisiana primary care settings; and by doing so, it aims to improve health and wellbeing for Louisianans with ADRD diagnoses and their caregivers. LA-GWEP will offer ADRD and dementia care experts to provide curriculum and experiential training, including the state-certified Dementia Training for Health Professionals program, to medical, nursing and social work practitioners, and to academic faculty and students within these disciplines across south Louisiana.

"We know that families and caregivers of persons with Alzheimer's disease and related disorders often see their primary care physicians, rather than neurologists, for a variety of reasons including familiarity, comfort level and shorter appointment wait times. We expect that this program will close the gap in dementia-friendly practice between their primary care physicians compared to a specialist," said Scott Wilks, LSU School of Social Work professor who leads LA-GWEP. "Health care providers and students across south Louisiana will have access to training and support that increases their knowledge of ADRD, and that knowledge will translate into better overall care for Louisiana residents diagnosed with ADRD, and better support for family members and other caregivers."

Louisiana has about 50 certified geriatricians to serve more than 400,000 older adults, including acute need for care in rural areas. This research and training grant will bridge a critical gap in expertise. Wilks and his colleagues aim to train and develop the workforce to meet this ever-growing need and improve quality of life for the citizens of Louisiana. Nationally, there is a demand for 70,000 geriatric social workers. However, only 10 percent of these social workers are currently in the workforce. Given that only 4 percent of licensed social workers and less than 1 percent of registered nurses currently identify themselves as specialized or certified in geriatrics, this research can provide important insights and create programs that other states may replicate.

LA-GWEP is under the leadership of principal investigator Wilks, who is also the gerontology specialization coordinator at the LSU School of Social Work. LA-GWEP co-investigators, who represent its organizational partners, include:

---Cassie Dinecola, assistant professor, LSU Social Work

---Catherine Lemieux, professor, LSU Social Work

---Dr. Lydia Bazzano, internal medicine, Ochsner

---Jennifer Couvillon, president, Chamberlain University, New Orleans Campus at Ochsner

---Barbara Auten, executive director, Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area.

Special appreciation goes to additional people at Ochsner Health System whose devoted support and assistance are vital to the success of this critically needed program for Louisiana residents and families living with ADRD:

---Dr. Leonardo Seoane, chief academic officer and senior vice-president

---Shelly Monks, system vice president, academic affairs

---Dr. Susan Nelson, system chair of palliative medicine

---Dr. Ronald Amadee, dean of medical education

---John Sawyer II, co-director, Cognitive Disorders & Brain Health Program

---Matt Estrade, Office of Grants Development

Finally, LA-GWEP thanks two people in the LSU College of Human Sciences & Education for their unique expertise: Judith Rhodes, director of the LSU Social Research and Evaluation Center and Terri Michel, director of Post Award and Accounting, Office of Financial Services.

Contributed by LSU University Relations