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Minority Alzheimer's patients the focus of UI nursing professor's grant

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The relationship between African-American Alzheimer's patients and their families is the focus of a $200,000 grant to Meridean Maas, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Nursing.

The grant from the U.S. Public Health Service-Department of Health and Human Services will help researchers study the effects of family involvement in the care of African-American people with Alzheimer's disease. Maas says there has been too little study of this topic with minority participants; more than 90 percent of subjects and family members studied until now have been white.

This grant is an offshoot of a $1.4 million effort begun in Iowa and Wisconsin in 1994 to study the effects of family involvement in the care of those with Alzheimer's. However, that effort did not center on African-American participants.

Because of the small numbers of minority residents in Iowa, UI researchers are teaming up with counterparts in Missouri and will concentrate on the St. Louis area to complete the study.

There are indications that African-American families tend to keep relatives with Alzheimer's in the home rather than institutionalizing them. African-Americans with Alzheimer's may also be perceived as less of a burden to their families, Maas says. Researchers hope to explore this further as a means of learning ways to increase family involvement in the care of Alzheimer's patients.

By studying care habits both in the home and in long-term care facilities, the researchers hope to find ways to improve the quality of care for people with Alzheimer's and improve relationships between caregivers and family members, if care is given outside the home.

"Families (of patients) don't want to complain about care (in long-term care facilities). They're worried about some kind of retribution in care of patients," Maas says. "Minority staff may be more inclined to accept families...we don't know."

From the beginning of the 1994 effort, researchers have said that family involvement in the treatment of Alzheimer's patients seeks to create a partnership between family and staff, resolve family-staff conflict, increase knowledge and encourage better use of resources.

Researchers hope to finish data collection by late summer and to have results by

early next year. Maas says one of the goals of the project is to collect data for a larger, multi-site study of the same topic.

Maas is the principal investigator on the grant, which also involves a number of other UI faculty members as co-investigators.