For people with Alzheimer’s and dementia who are admitted to hospital, understanding diagnosis and treatment options, as well as investigating and accessing available supports, can be overwhelming.
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Once they get home, when symptoms change (increased memory loss, decreased physical independence, for example) and needs escalate (for day programs, respite care, personal support workers, etc.), getting help becomes more time consuming and critical.
Finding those supports early has a positive impact not only on quality of life, but on longevity. So when it comes to helping patients maneuver through the processes, who comes to the rescue? A relatively new field called professional patient care navigators.
They work to reduce barriers—language, cultural, financial, knowledge-based, or emotional—to getting those supports. They are now, in Canada as well as the U.S., a key part of cancer care. They are also starting to be introduced for other chronic issues, and, in some jurisdictions, finally, dementia care too.
Why were patient care navigators introduced?
This role first appeared in 1990 in a pilot program at Harlem Hospital. Those non-medical professionals helped coordinate appointments and make sure patients kept them; they directed patients to financial assistance and communicated with medical staff on behalf of patients. Between 1995 and 2000, the five-year survival rate for patients in the program nearly doubled.
Sometimes also called “health care navigators,” these workers are trained in various fields—medical doctors, nurses and social workers are the most common.
While it might be easy to assume these services are simply a luxury that a stretched and underfunded public health care system can’t afford, research proves navigators cut costs and save lives.
Here’s a look at the two different types and what they can do for you.
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