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Smoky Mountain Geriatric Teams Increase Quality of Care for Older Adults with Dementia, Mental Illness in WNC

Nov. 10, 2014. An estimated one in seven adults age 71 or older in the United States has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In western North Carolina, Smoky Mountain LME/MCO (“Smoky”) operates four Geriatric and Adult Mental Health Specialty Teams to increase the quality of care for older adults with dementia or other mental illness. Getting these individuals the care they deserve can improve their quality of life and provide greater comfort and stability. This November, Smoky is recognizing both National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Month by highlighting how Smoky’s geriatric teams are helping both professional and family caregivers better understand and respond to older adults under their care.

“Through the excellent training by the geriatric teams, our staff has been able to increase their knowledge base on a variety of mental health issues,” said Weyland Prebor, director of the McDowell County Senior Center in Marion, where Smoky has trained staff.  “Using this education, our employees have been able to improve their abilities in assisting clients and their families. The information provided is invaluable for any agency that assists the aging population.”

In 2014, Smoky’s geriatric teams – which include registered nurses, licensed clinicians and qualified mental health professionals – have provided more than 1,100 trainings throughout western North Carolina for caregivers on how to respond to symptoms and behaviors of dementia and other mental illness in older adults. They provide consultations for client needs, work to prevent crisis situations, support caregivers and help people find community resources. Teams also assist nursing staff and caregivers of younger people experiencing early onset of dementia.

The geriatric teams conduct trainings on approximately 100 specialized topics, including anger management, meaningful activities for adults with dementia, depression, suicide prevention, grief and loss, psychiatric medication and the connection between physical and mental illness. The teams also provide support in the community for older individuals at risk of psychiatric hospitalization and assist with discharge planning from inpatient to community settings.

“Friends and families want the best care possible for their loved one with dementia or other mental illness,” said Ruth Jordan, director of Smoky’s geriatric teams. “But some people don’t know the best way to respond to older adults when a challenging situation or conversation arises. At Smoky, we’re working to help give caregivers the tools and information they need to increase the health and wellbeing of these adults, as well as of themselves.”

In the past year, Smoky has also provided individualized care coordination services for 421 adults aged 60 or older who have a mental illness, substance use disorder or developmental disability. Care coordinators ensure that these older adults, some of whom also have medical problems, receive the services and supports they need to help achieve their goals.

To learn more about these local resources to help older adults, please call Smoky at 1-800-849-6127 or visitwww.smokymountaincenter.com.

President Ronald Reagan designated November as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in 1983. Today, nearly 5.4 million people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates there are more than 15 million caregivers in the United States caring for family or friends with the disease. Learn more at www.alz.org or visit the website of Alzheimers North Carolina at www.alznc.org.

About Smoky Mountain LME/MCO

Smoky Mountain LME/MCO manages public funds for mental health, substance use disorder and intellectual/developmental disability services in Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey counties in North Carolina. Access to services is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling 1-800-849-6127. Visit Smoky online atwww.smokymountaincenter.com.