The psychosocial risks for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease among the underserved and disadvantaged elderly population are the focus of a joint project between The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing and Interfaith Ministries’ Meals on Wheels for Greater Houston program.
Under the direction of Lisa Boss, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN, 20 UTHealth students in Harris and Montgomery counties team up weekly for 10 weeks to visit the homes of Meals on Wheels clients as part of a study. They interview the clients about nutrition and overall health and obtain saliva for biomarkers of stress and inflammation. The students also provide one-on-one attention that would otherwise be unavailable to the clients.
“There are no other distractions,” said Boss, a Texas Nurses Association member. “They can talk to the client and really connect with them.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 9 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease. By 2050, the number of Americans 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to grow from 5.2 million to a projected 13.8 million.
The purpose of the study is to examine the relationship of biomarkers of stress and inflammation and psychosocial factors, such as loneliness and pessimism, to cognitive function in disadvantaged and homebound elderly patients.
The partnership, which began in 2013, gives nursing students an opportunity to gain real life experience while exposing them to the realities that some elderly patients face. Although the students’ work is primarily for research purposes, if they have immediate concerns about a client, they report it to Interfaith Ministries.
“A lot of seniors don’t have the care that they need because of their socioeconomic status,” said Rebecca Bowman, a senior in the Bachelor of Science nursing program. “It makes you grateful for what you have.”
Interfaith Ministries’ Meals on Wheels for Greater Houston program delivers meals to homebound seniors over the age of 60 and their spouses. The program also delivers breakfast and weekend meals to the most frail and isolated seniors.
“For many of our seniors, their Meals on Wheels driver is the only person they see all day,” said Warren Wenner, director of Meals on Wheels. “Thanks to our partnership with UTHealth’s School of Nursing, we are able to spend more time with seniors by checking on their overall physical and emotional health. The seniors appreciate the extra attention they get from the nurses.”
The program runs every semester, giving nursing students throughout the program an opportunity to participate. This semester’s session ended July 26.
“It has been a great experience being out in the community and visiting people I would never have a chance to interact with otherwise,” said nursing student Margaret Roberson during a recent visit. “It’s been interesting seeing a different way of living.”