Growing Partnership with Drexel Sparks New Possibilities in Dementia Care

Growing Partnership with Drexel Sparks New Possibilities in Dementia Care

Growing Partnership with Drexel Sparks New Possibilities in Dementia Care

“You are not alone.”  For a caregiver of a loved one with dementia – or for someone struggling with dementia themselves – this is a powerful message to hear.

This is exactly the message that Kathleen Roberts received when she heard Gloria Donnelly, who was then dean of the Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions, speak at a senior healthcare seminar in 2016. Kathleen served as the director of dementia care strategy at Living Branches until her retirement, but at the time of the conference, Kathleen was only in the early stages of stepping into her role. She was also serving as a caregiver for her mother, who was living with dementia at Dock Woods, one of the Living Branches communities.

This memorable encounter not only supported Kathleen in her personal life but also kindled a new partnership between Living Branches and Drexel University that has gained exciting momentum in recent years. The idea of new possibilities in dementia care was exciting.

“I will never forget Gloria’s speech because she shared very personal stories about her life as a caregiver for both a parent and a parent-in-law with dementia,” Kathleen says. “She offered insight, humor, and most importantly, a sense that I wasn’t alone. Dementia can be extremely isolating – for both the individual and the caregiver – and her openness touched me deeply. After the seminar, I just had to introduce myself to her.”

New Roles Might Mean New Alliances and Possibilities in Dementia Care

Kathleen also introduced Donna to Living Branches and talked about what she wanted to accomplish in her role as the director of dementia care strategy – which included seeking partnerships with outside organizations (like Drexel!) committed to discovering new innovations and possibilities in dementia care.

Later that year, Kathleen and Donna came back together on Drexel’s campus. The meeting included a number of Drexel professors and faculty, as well as a range of Living Branches representatives. By then, Donna had announced her retirement, and the meeting allowed Kathleen and her team to meet Laura Gitlan, Donna’s successor who had previously served as the founding director of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing Center for Innovative Care in Aging.

“Everyone at the table brought an open mind regarding the possibilities of a partnership between Drexel and Living Branches – as well as a united belief that dementia care requires the same level of scientific exploration as other conditions related to aging,” Kathleen says. “We immediately realized the win-win of an ongoing collaboration: Drexel brought the scientific expertise, and Living Branches could offer a real-world setting to test out new ideas.”

Challenges to Finding New Possibilities in Dementia Care

The first challenge the team tackled together was a study on caregiver burnout, which confirmed some important hypotheses about the experience of dementia patient caregivers – and led to new initiatives at Living Branches. (Read more about this study here.)

“One of the most exciting aspects of our partnership with Drexel is our access to student interns,” Kathleen says. “Many have never explored dementia care, and it’s exciting for us to see them get excited about the career possibilities in this field. It’s fulfilling to play a role in building that crucial next generation of caregivers.”

For Kathleen, forging a new dementia care strategy at Living Branches was a whirlwind of exciting progress – and she credits many of those achievements to the partnership with Drexel.

Improving through Exploring the New Possibilities in Dementia Care

“From the very beginning, our friends at Drexel have taught us that we are not alone in our quest to transform how we think about – and deliver – dementia care,” Kathleen says. “By working together, there is much we can do to improve the wellbeing of those living with dementia and their caregivers – and to let them know that they are also not alone in the challenges they face.”

“This is definitely an exciting, forward-thinking time in dementia care,” Kathleen adds, “and we are committed to playing an active role in this growing conversation – to enhance care possibilities within our community and well beyond.”