Uncertainty and anxiety hung in the air last month when my colleagues in the aging field descended on Chicago for the annual conference of the American Society on Aging (ASA).

We had come to the Windy City to assess the state of “Aging in America.” But it was hard not to keep at least one eye on the winds of change blowing through Washington, DC.

Anxiety and pessimism might have won the day were it not for a reception honoring this year’s winners of the Rosalinde Gilbert Innovations in Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiving Legacy Awards.

The annual awards ceremony, hosted by the Family Caregiver Alliance and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, never fails to buoy the spirits of ASA conference attendees. That’s because the ceremony always sends us a strong reminder that compassion, creativity and resilience -- not defeat or disappointment -- characterize our field.

Picking Winners for 10 Years

For each of the past 10 years, I’ve helped the Family Caregiver Alliance select 3 innovative programs to receive a Gilbert Caregiving Legacy Award. A lifelong commitment to supporting family caregivers prompted me to accept the Alliance’s invitation to become a reviewer in 2007. But I come back each year for 3 reasons.

First, I like being reminded that many gifted individuals and forward-thinking organizations around the country are working hard to develop and implement innovative, community-oriented strategies to support and empower Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

Second, I’m fascinated to see how awardees consistently make a relatively small investment go such a long way. Each winner receives only $20,000, but they always do amazing things with that money. More often than not, they use the award to position their programs so they can gain additional support and move to the next level of sophistication and sustainability.

Three Critical Areas of Focus

Finally, I love how the Gilbert Caregiving Legacy Awards focus on 3 areas that I believe are critical to making sure that high-quality services and supports are available to all people with dementia and their families. Each year, the awards recognize individuals who have developed programs that:

  • Enhance creative expression among people with dementia: This year’s award went to Dr. Elizabeth “Like” Logan and Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center in Ohio for a program called Opening Minds through Art. The intergenerational program helps older adults with dementia tap into something deep within themselves so they can create beautifully expressive art. Each participant is accompanied on the artistic journey by a younger person who comes to understand that despite cognitive impairment, “the human is still there … locked behind the disease,” according to Lokon. Unlocking that inner self is really an incredible process to witness.
  • Brings dementia care to diverse, multicultural communities: Karen Leekity and Zuni Elderly Services were honored in this category for their work to develop Zuni Adult Day Services on the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. The center is the first of its kind to bring dementia care and respite to Native American elders so they won’t have to leave the reservation. It lets Pueblo members with dementia stay close to family members while retaining ties with the native language and customs that have supported them for a lifetime. The program also provides ongoing caregiver training while building knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in the wider community.
  • Advances policy and advocacy efforts: Dr. Debra L. Cherry and Alzheimer's Greater Los Angeles were honored for developing the Dementia Cal MediConnect Project, which improves access to quality health care and supports for poor and ethnically diverse people with dementia participating in California’s “duals” (Medicare/MediCal) demonstration project. The California Department of Aging, 3 Alzheimer’s Association chapters, and 10 health plans are working together to provide technical assistance in dementia care to health plans, train care managers so they understand the needs of people with dementia, and provide support and Alzheimer’s care to older people and their caregivers.

Best Practices for LeadingAge Members

Over the past 10 years, the Family Caregiver Alliance and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation have recognized 30 outstanding programs that are implementing life-changing programs for people with dementia and their families.

Each of these programs has a great deal to teach LeadingAge members seeking better ways to support residents and clients and their families as they live with dementia.

But don’t take my word for it. Flip through the Gilbert Caregiving Legacy Awards scrapbook, which highlights all the programs that have been honored since 2008.

I promise you this:

Taking just a few minutes with this online scrapbook will help you feel a little more hopeful – and a little less anxious – about the future of our extremely creative field.

A closer look at the 30 winners may even convince you to replicate one of these outstanding programs. Such replication will surely help people with Alzheimer’s and their families also feel more hopeful and less anxious about the future.