Caregiver teaching senior woman to work with smartphone and shopping online. Technology and digital literacy for elderly person.
(Credit: Halfpoint Images / Getty Images)

Senior living and other long-term care providers looking to launch their own dementia care training programs now can turn to the Alzheimer’s Association, which was just named the world’s first Project ECHO Superhub for Alzheimer’s and dementia care.

Project ECHO, or Extension in Community Health Outcomes, is a virtual community that provides mentoring and support to three audiences — community and long-term care (including assisted living) professionals, health systems and clinicians, and public health professionals. Developed in 2003 by the University of New Mexico, the ECHO model has grown to include thousands of programs in more than 200 countries working to improve access to high-quality care for almost 100 health conditions.

As an ECHO Superhub, the Alzheimer’s Association can recruit, train and support new partners interested in enhancing person-centered dementia care, particularly in underserved areas. Partners will have access to resources including ongoing guidance on program design and planning, curriculum development, and budget and sustainability planning. 

Alzheimer’s Association Project ECHO Director Dana Sohmer called the program a “win-win” for everyone.

“Our Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care ECHO Program has a proven track record of success,” Sohmer said in a statement. “We want to share our expertise and the lessons learned over the past six years to help our new partners establish ECHO programs that benefit front-line providers, but more importantly, enhance dementia care for the individual and families they serve.”

In addition to its work as an ECHO Superhub, the Alzheimer’s Association will continue to offer its existing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care ECHO Program, including the ECHO Program for Professional Care Providers, which provides separate training for long-term care community staff in the areas of care planning, activities of daily life and understanding dementia-related behaviors.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care ECHO training programs have been delivered to more than 2,000 professional caregivers and primary care providers since launching in 2018. According to the association, 80% of long-term care providers reported that ECHO influenced positive interactions with caregivers and families, and 74% said that Project ECHO improved care quality.

According to data cited by the National Center for Assisted Living, 42% of assisted living residents in the nation have diagnosed dementia. NCAL also reported that 18% of assisted living communities have a dementia care unit, wing or designated floor, and 11% only serve adults living with dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association and its advocacy affiliate, the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement, recently submitted a letter to the US Senate Special Committee on Aging for the record of a hearing about addressing long-term care workforce shortages, calling for an expansion of Project ECHO. 
A bill introduced in the House — the Accelerating Access to Dementia and Azlheiemr’s Provider Training, or AADAPT, Act, HR 7688 — would expand the program through grants to address knowledge gaps and workforce capacity issues.