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Panel participant Theresa A. Harvath focuses on people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

An internationally recognized expert in gerontological nursing and nursing education, Symposium panel participant Theresa A. Harvath, PhD, RN, FAAN, focuses on a rapidly growing segment of Americans: people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and their family caregivers. Performing research that seeks to understand and improve the relationship between these individuals and their caregivers, Dr. Harvath hopes to use the findings so in-home care can be improved. She puts her research into action as the founding director of the Family Caregiving Institute at The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, launched in 2017 to advance research, education and policy to support caregivers.

Study Launches Action to Aid Caregivers

After the publication of Home Alone: Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care, a 2012 study by the AARP Public Policy Institute and the United Hospital Fund, Dr. Harvath was among a team of collaborators, including AARP, the United Hospital Fund, the Family Caregiver Alliance, and caregivers themselves, who sprang into action to respond to the study’s findings.

The study showed that 46 percent of family caregivers perform medical/nursing tasks such as changing catheters, giving injections, preparing special diets, managing complex medication routines, and wound care. Many felt they needed more instruction performing these difficult tasks.

So the team created a set of videos to help family caregivers to perform these tasks. The videos helped to translate clinical knowledge to in-home lay settings. In a 9-minute video Dr. Harvath herself recorded, she coaches a caregiving woman on ways to overcome her mother-in-law’s resistance to taking her medications.

Caregiver Videos Trained Nurses Too

Not only has this series of videos been helpful to family caregivers, they have been used to teach nurses and nursing students how to role-model the practices shown in the videos to their patients’ caregivers, compassionately working together to aid family members who are faced with performing difficult clinical tasks for their loved ones.

New Work Aids Elders in Care Facilities

Dr. Harvath’s work has focused on a wide range of concerns for the elderly. Recently she has created “Safety vs. Autonomy for Elders: What if Maslow Was Wrong?” a collection of workshops and videos that explore the complex issues involved in trying to honor the personal preferences of elders within the context of a long-term care environment. Values of personal autonomy and patient safety can collide there, so Dr. Harvath’s mission is to examine case studies and generate ideas and strategies to help care providers make well-reasoned decisions with their elder residents.

Widely published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and other publications including the American Journal of Nursing, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of Gerontological Nursing and Clinical Nursing Research, Dr. Harvath will bring her deep understanding of issues facing elders, people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and their caregivers, to share at the 2018 Symposium.

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