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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Members of the Phi Lambda Sigma chapter at UW-Madison led discussions aimed to help unpaid Alzheimer caregivers navigate through their responsibilities and maintain their own health. 

Pharmacy students discuss personal, patient health with Alzheimer caretakers

UW-Madison pharmacy students led training discussions for unpaid Alzheimer caregivers that called for increased attention to their personal health and provided advice, resources and support to ensure the health of their patients.

After two years of planning, members of the UW-Madison chapter of Phi Lambda Sigma pharmacy society hosted its “Caring for the Caregiver” event in Nov. in the South Madison Partnership Building. PLS members and representatives from other university departments facilitated roundtable discussions and provided caregivers the opportunity to discuss their overall health — both for themselves and their loved ones. 

Nearly 5.8 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer's and 16 million caregivers provide unpaid care, which was estimated to be worth $217.7 billion in 2014, according to The Alzheimer’s Association.

Unpaid caregivers work on average 22 hours per week and often feel overwhelmed in bearing the demanding responsibilities of providing care, which include monitoring their patient’s personal hygiene and complex medication routines, as well as the mental toll of keeping up with their duties.

Through their interactive conversations, PLS members accentuated that caretakers should maintain their health even amid the physical, financial and emotional difficulties related to taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

“We’re hoping that through this training, caregivers realize that, as important as it is to take care of their loved ones, it’s also important for them to take care of themselves,” said PLS President Kara Mudd. 

The PLS chapter at UW-Madison pitched the idea of running student-led trainings and won the national organization’s Charles Thomas Leadership Challenge Award, which provided funding for the event. Current and former members of UW-Madison’s PLS chapter collaborated to develop and carry out the session. 

Will Clifton, a member of the UW Initiative to End Alzheimer’s Board of Visitors, kicked off the event with his own testimony of being a caregiver to his parents. PLS members followed and led discussions that tackled medical issues associated with their patients, specifically those regarding medication and the different stages of dementia and Alzheimers. 

Students from the School of Social Work contributed and helped the caretakers realize the psychological and emotional aspects of working with patients that suffer from Alzheimer's. Members from the School of Nursing also provided advice and reminded caregivers of other medical and community resources at their disposal. 

Event attendees described the experience as memorable, saying the dialogue among caregivers and UW-Madison students created a greater sense of community in sharing their advice and life experiences.

“I think it went really well,” said Nicole Fox, a member of the School of Social Work. “It was a very interdisciplinary and collaborative program, and I think it really played on what caregivers are needing.”

Faculty from the School of Pharmacy stated their students took the initiative with little help in shaping the event and appreciated their devotion to such an important issue. 

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 “These student pharmacists demonstrate their ability as leaders every day,” said Assistant Professor Ed Portillo. “This is just one example of how they’ve applied leadership not only as students in the School but as innovators in the community.” 

The UW-Madison chapter of PLS shared their plan and guidelines with other chapters across the country in hopes they replicate the beneficial event. The chapter did not indicate whether they would host the event again.  

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