Currently, a record 5.5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease. This number will jump to seven million in the next decade. And, for every person with Alzheimer’s, a team of unpaid caregivers struggles to provide support. Caregivers often feel isolated and lost, and those with Alzheimer’s might not receive the care they both need and deserve.

A pioneering program

Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors (RURCBOG) and Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. recognized this urgent need, and, on May 9, 2017, they collaborated to launch the first-ever Alzheimer’s Journey Coordinator Certificate Program. According to Kris Kolluri, CEO of RURCBOG, the program will provide residents of Camden and southern New Jersey with a “unique and innovative approach to improving the quality of life of those affected by Alzheimer’s, especially low-income and minority populations who struggle to access health care resources.”

The Alzheimer’s Journey Coordinator Certificate Program is grounded in the scientific literature on Patient Navigation — a best practice in oncology. Patient navigation, which was pioneered by Dr. Harold Freeman to help women with breast cancer in Harlem, connects families to information and resources, advises about care options and provides support throughout the entire journey.

Tailoring to Alzheimer’s

“Patient navigation… connects families to information and resources, advises about care options and provides support throughout the entire journey.”

The new program, launched by RURCBOG and Otsuka, carries on this tradition, but adds two important elements. First, it focuses on needs both inside and outside the clinic. Given the unique, degenerative nature of Alzheimer’s, families must plan and prepare for non-medical needs. Second, the program creates new jobs in southern New Jersey, as it will recruit residents to train as Alzheimer’s Journey Coordinators.

At the program’s launch, Lisa Winstel, COO of the Caregiver Action Network, emphasized how the program could provide much-needed relief for caregivers. According to Winstel, caregivers face “a significantly increased rate of depression, an increased rate of chronic diseases, because they just can’t face going to another doctor’s office, just can’t take more time off work for their own medical appointment.”

New Jersey Congressman Donald Norcross added, “It’s good to see this new and innovative approach to care coordination, which will provide caregivers the tools and information that can help them.”

The next steps

The plan going forward, according to Mary Michael, Vice President of Patient Advocacy and Stakeholder Management at Otsuka, “is to convene a committee of local, national and global experts to determine best practices for training Alzheimer’s Journey Coordinators and situating them within the health care system to make the most impact.”

The goal for this program is not only to improve lives and create jobs in southern New Jersey, but to pilot a new kind of patient and caregiver-centered program that can work, across the United States, for many kinds of health needs.