Bay Pines treatment program is a model in Florida

08/05/08 Dawn Morgan
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According the Alzheimer’s Association, 5 million people in the country have some form of dementia, and that number will only grow as the population ages. Though there is no cure for cognitive impairments, research has shown mental stimulation offered at dementia day treatment centers prolongs the time a patient can live functionally outside of a long term care facility. Pinellas County’s Bay Pines VA center offers such a program, and may be a model for the state - and nation - to follow.

The Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association offers resources to caregivers and family members taking care of loved ones or patients with dementia.

For veterans suffering from cognitive impairments, the Bay Pines VA complex in Pinellas already has a plan in place. Ten years ago a day treatment program was started on the campus, and has since become somewhat of a model in mental healthcare.

WWII Army vet Steven Pryslak is 88, a widower and lives at an assisted living facility. He goes to a day treatment program at the Bay Pines VA Clinic a few times a week.

Roughly 70 percent of the 60 veterans in the program have some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s. According to Melissa Dixon, the social worker who coordinates the program, such treatment programs that engage the mind keep people with cognitive impairments out of nursing homes for up to two and a half years.

She works with VA medical staff to coordinate the patient’s regular physical and mental health care and says that the key to a good day care program is collaboration.

Dixon says if not for the program, some of her patients would be sitting home alone, developing depression and becoming isolated. She also stresses the difference between a day treatment program and an adult day care center.

And the Bay Pines model is proving that it doesn’t just help the patient, but also the tax payer.

Several Florida senators, including Tampa’s Victor Crist, toured Bay Pines in January to see if the Bay Pines model could be expanded out into the state.

During this past 2008 regular session, the Legislature approved the continuing of the Medicaid Alzheimer’s Disease Waiver SB 1092 (HB 7047).

According to Michael W. Garner, Chief Legislative Analyst for the Florida Senate, the bill provides enhanced services to Medicaid patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Sen. Crist’s office was unavailable to comment for follow up on his visit for this story and further plans for the waiver.

Dixon hopes the state will act soon. The Bay Pines program has a waiting list of about 25 people, and has little to offer patients while they wait for an opening. And for the aging citizens of Florida, vets and non-vets alike, the waiting can determine the road their life will take.

On Aug. 22, the Bay Pines VA and St. Petersburg College present the 12th annual Geropsychiatry Workshop on Restoring Function and Quality of life in the Elderly.

For information:

Alzheimer’s Association: or 800-772-8672

Bay Pines VA: 727-398-6661

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