Care Partners Reaching Out program awarded for efforts to help caregivers of elderly, aging

David Coon (middle) and other experts with Care Partners Reaching Out received the Rosalynn Carter Leadership Award in Georgia on Oct. 25. Courtesy of the Rosalyn Institute for Caregiving

Each November, National Family Caregivers Month recognizes the efforts of those who care for aging and elderly family members. For David Coon, associate vice provost and professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, it is difficult to think of a higher honor than receiving the 2013 Rosalynn Carter Leadership in Caregiving Award.

Coon and fellow experts in the field were recognized for their work with Care Partners Reaching Out, known as CarePRO, a program Coon designed. The program has come to life through a collaboration between ASU, the Alzheimer’s Association Desert Southwest Chapter, the Arizona Department of Economic Security and the Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division.

Former first lady Rosalynn Carter presented the award at the Rosalynn Carter Institute National Summit in Georgia on Oct. 25. The award included $20,000 to be spent on funding the program further and a statuette.

“The CarePRO program has made a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of caregivers to enable them to navigate the many challenges associated with Alzheimer’s,” said Deborah Schaus, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Desert Southwest Chapter.

Coon said the program is built off of an intervention that he developed through a clinical trial funded by the National Institutes of Health. He took what was learned from the clinical trial and worked with community partners to refine it to meet the needs of community partners and caregiver participants. The result was an educational skill-building program that is designed to help caregivers through psychological techniques that help to alleviate mental distress.

“Caregiving can be very stressful, potentially negatively impacting the individual’s quality of life,” Coon said.

The program teaches those who care for people with Alzheimer’s or related diseases how to deal with personal obstacles in caregiving, including depression, anger and frustration. It also teaches people how to better interact with the people they are caring for.

“It helps overall maintain that improved quality of life for the caregiver and the individual with dementia,” Coon said.

This is done through 10 weekly sessions that inform caregivers on how to think differently about their caregiving situations by speaking more assertively about those situations with others, communicating more effectively with health providers and learning how to retain a normal lifestyle. Coon said it is important for caregivers to remain connected with the simple, everyday aspects of their lives that bring them joy.

“So many of us are touched by Alzheimer’s or related dementias,” Coon said. “We know it’s not going away. It’s increasing until there is a cure or treatment. I’m passionate about helping people maintain their quality of life and maintain the quality of their loved one as best they can.”

As of September 2013, more than 800 caregivers had taken part in the program from urban, suburban and rural settings across Arizona and Nevada, said Laura Bauer, director of national initiatives for the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving.

“Findings on the CarePRO project have yielded statistically significant improvements, including reductions in depression, decrease in bother and upset associated with care recipient memory and behavior problems, as well as increases in caregiver use of positive coping strategies and caregiver satisfaction with received social support,” Bauer said.

Bauer said that more than 95 percent of CarePRO participants not only saw overall benefit from their CarePRO participation, but also specific benefits in terms of an increased understanding of memory loss and its effects on people. This resulted in more confidence in dealing with their loved one’s problems and enhanced their ability to provide care.

CarePRO has been embedded into chapters across Arizona and Nevada. Other states are also interested in getting information on becoming involved with the program.

“The Rosalynn Carter Institute believes that caregivers nationwide should have access to evidence-based supports with proven positive outcomes,” Bauer said. “The sheer numbers of caregivers reached by CarePRO, combined with the difficulty of establishing partnerships across state lines, and in both rural and urban areas, made the work this team has done stand out.”

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Correction: Nov. 19, 2013

A previous version of this article incorrectly named the College of Nursing and Health Innovation as the funder for the clinical trial of Care Partners Reaching Out. The funder was the National Institutes of Health.