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Jennifer Tjia weighs in on new study showing benefits of telephone support for dementia caregivers

Editorial ‘Finding the Time to Listen’ published by JAMA Internal Medicine

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

October 02, 2019
Jennifer Tjia, MD

UMass Medical School geriatrics expert Jennifer Tjia, MD, MSCE, interspersed personal reflection with scholarly analysis in a JAMA Internal Medicine editorial on a study that found telephone support for caretakers of family members with dementia can improve quality of life for patients and caregivers.

“Having a telephone-based intervention where the family gets a call once a month really helps a caregiver out,” said Dr. Tjia, associate professor of population & quantitative health sciences. “They don’t feel as stressed out, they aren’t as lonely. What’s remarkable is they help keep patients out of the emergency room as well.”

Tjia notes that such an intervention could have helped her own family as her father succumbed to dementia.

“I mostly experienced this odyssey remotely through the stories my mom shared on the telephone,” Tjia wrote. “Through these conversations I realized how a skilled care team navigator could have allowed her to express frustration and fear while helping her to remain resilient.”

Tjia’s editorial accompanied publication of the randomized clinical trial in which care team navigators who are trained and supervised by a dementia specialist nurse, social worker and pharmacist call caregivers about once a month. Dementia patients in the program had better quality of life and fewer emergency room visits and their caregivers had a lower risk of depression compared to a control group that received only usual care.

“Listening is healing,” Tjia wrote. “Caregivers need someone who can empathically listen to their dilemmas, frustrations, and stories about their loved one, who is slipping away. Second, the telephone can be an effective lifeline. Even one call per month, the baseline frequency of calls by care team navigators, seemed to make a difference to caregivers.”

Read more from Tjia in an interview with Reuters, read the full commentary in JAMA Internal Medicine and hear her discuss it in the podcast at JAMA Network Learning.

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