School of Nursing

September 21, 2021

World Alzheimer’s Day 2021

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day. It is a day to recognize the enormous difficulties faced by not only people with dementia but also the people who care for them—family members and professional caregivers alike.

Alzheimer’s and the less-frequent forms of dementia affect an estimated 50 million people around the world. That alone is a staggering toll. But to that, we must add the tens of millions who care for those who can no longer fully care for themselves. Dementias exact a monetary cost of more than $350 billion annually in just the U.S.; caregivers’ emotional and health cost is incalculable. More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for dementia patients, and they do so at the expense of their own physical and mental health.

At the School of Nursing, we understand the importance of urgently cultivating creative solutions for improving healthcare and the well-being of people, families, and communities living with dementia and those who care for them. This is why dementia-related research, education, and workforce development, and increasing the visibility of the essential roles of nurses, are among the top priorities for our school.

For the past two decades, our de Tornyay Center for Healthy Aging, has supported research, education, and clinical practice in this area. Our faculty members are nationally recognized leaders in research on dementia caregiving, healthy lifestyle, quality of life, technology, and healthcare interventions.

We recently launched an innovative dementia education and workforce initiative – the Dementia Palliative Education Network (DPEN). The goal of DPEN is to transform nursing education to build core competencies in dementia care. This program aims to develop a new role of a registered nurse (RN) dementia specialist and create a health system infrastructure that will take full advantage of specialist nurses prepared to work at the top of their scope of practice and lead healthcare teams. DPEN will offer dementia training, scholarships, and certification for undergraduate nursing students, continuing nursing education for practicing registered nurses, and interprofessional education for the 500+ health sciences students across the UW. We are also responding to the immediate urgent need to support the Long Term Care industry devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic by launching a nursing student externship training in this setting.

As a top-ranked university and leader in nursing education and innovation, UW is deeply committed to advancing the field through expanding access to culturally humble, timely and competent healthcare for vulnerable populations. The vision of DPEN is to improve access to dementia care by preparing 3.8 million RNs in the U.S. with the necessary knowledge and skills.

Our other goal is to improve the visibility of the roles of nurses in dementia care. I am proud that in 2020 the UW became the official U.S. partner of the Queen Silvia (of Sweden) Nursing Award. The award seeks to identify nurses who have an innovative project that would improve the care of people with dementia. The inaugural U.S. winner is Brooke Tamble, a recent graduate of our accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Her project, “Wait, I Remember,” focuses on developing software that addresses the challenges of a person with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently seeking applications for the 2021 award from practicing RNs who graduated from any of the three UW nursing programs (UW Seattle, UW Bothell, or UW Tacoma) with a bachelor of science in nursing or are current UW undergraduate student nurses. Our other related global initiative is a future undergraduate student exchange with Karolinska Institute in Sweden. When it is safe to travel, our students will have an opportunity to learn about best practices in dementia care in other countries, and we in turn will host international students who will be learning from us.

While there is, so far, no cure for dementia, our innovative faculty, researchers, and students are exploring new ways our profession can provide helpful, meaningful care for people with dementia while continuing to encourage the research that we hope will someday lead to preventive or curative treatment.

We are proud to be part of such efforts.