Online Classes Help Families Globally Cope With Alzheimer’s Stress

Online Classes Help Families Globally Cope With Alzheimer’s Stress

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Photo: Hong Kong-based dementia-care expert, Timothy Kwok, PhD, spoke at the recent Gerontological Society of America conference in Washington, D.C. The University of Miami's Sara J. Czaja looks on. (Rong Xiaoqing/Sing Tao Daily)

WASHINGTON, D.C.--International research is demonstrating that online educational program can help caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias to manage their care and reduce stress. But not all of the promising Internet-based training projects are getting the support they need to continue.

Experts on care for dementia patients Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Canada and the United States discussed innovative dementia-care programs at the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) Annual Scientific Meeting, in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.

World Health Research Focus

Noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified dementia as one of its main research focuses, the panel members explained that while many elders suffer from the severe loss of mental function, their main family caregivers, also face big challenges when taking care of their loved ones.

Key challenges that caregivers face include social isolation, anxiety and depression, according to speakers at the session titled “Internet Programs for Dementia Caregivers: Global Developments, Benefits and Next Steps.”

In 2010, 36 million people globally were diagnosed with dementia, and that number is on course to double by 2030--and triple by 2050. The medical cost of dementia has reached $ 600 billion internationally every year.

“The Internet offers opportunities to provide available, accessible, and affordable support for dementia caregivers,” said psychologist on aging Sara J. Czaja of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

Czaja explained that in order to help caregivers find solutions, WHO developed a research team that is focusing it’s research on identifying family caregivers main challenges, teaching caregivers how to deal with aggressive patients, and showing how to build one-on-one online training courses.

Panelists agreed that Internet courses can benefits to both caregivers and patients. For instance, a caregiver can learn strategies for better managing his or her schedule online to minimize the need to leave a patient at home. That can reduce the risk to patients, who may have to cope alone while their caregiver is away.

Researchers in Canada and India have already received government funding to develop online systems. However, not all of researchers are receiving similar backing.

Hong Kong Program

“The Hong Kong government still has not yet showed the interest on supporting online dementia training courses for caregivers,” said Timothy Kwok, PhD, director of a web-based caregiving course at the Hong Kong-based non-governmental organization, the Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing (JCCPA).

He added, “Our researchers are very frustrated about it. ”

He said that although family caregivers have generally welcomed the online training course, the organization is struggling to continue providing the program because of financial problems.

Kwok described the course’s three parts and said the training requires caregivers to finish all three sections to get a certificate of completion.

The first part educates caregivers about dementia, providing essential information about the disease and key skills family members need to develop to managed the illness. The second part of the program covers effective solutions for caregivers in response to their needs and difficulties. Part three gives caregivers a one-on-one training program over nine weeks.

Kwok said the first two parts are free of charge, but the last part of the training costs participants the equivalent of $280 in U.S. dollars.

So far, Kwok said, more than 17,000 people registered for the course in its first past two years.

"Most who register for the course only complete the first two parts because it’s free of charge, but they are reluctant to pay the tuition fee for the third part,” he said. He added that many people in Hong Kong think they should spend their money on patients directly, instead of caregivers.

Explaining that the tuition fee goes to professional trainers, Kwok stressed, “The fee could possibly be waived if the government would give its support and funding.”

Less Anxiety for Caregivers

Kwok, also a professor at Hong Kong University, said JCCPA initially received three year’s funding enabling the group to build, a multi-language website providing caregivers online training courses.

Part of the funding supported a modest study on the effectiveness of the course showing that 36 caregivers, who participated with JCCPA’s experiment, became much more relaxed and less anxious after they finished the three parts of online training courses.

“The course improved the quality of their lives.” Kwok said.

Rong Xiaoqing wrote this story in Chinese for Sing Tao Daily (New York) supported by the Journalists in Aging Fellows program, a project of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by the Silver Century Foundation. NAM’s Summer Chiang assisted with the English translation.