Can Phone Apps Help Dementia Caregivers?

Friday, May 08, 2020 • Valerie Fields Hill :

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Kathy Lee, Assistant Professor

A UTA School of Social Work professor has been awarded a $150,000 grant to study the best ways to communicate with caregivers of East Asian Americans diagnosed with memory disorders. 

Kathy Lee, an assistant professor, earned the funding from the Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant Program, one of the nation’s premier supporters of dementia research. 

The Chicago-based program’s goal is to fund research that identifies new treatments for memory disorders. It also aims to uncover ways to support loved ones who care for Alzheimer’s patients. 

Lee works with Fort Worth and Dallas-based social service agencies that serve dementia patients. While volunteering at the agencies, she noticed a conspicuous absence of local residents of Chinese and Korean descent. 

“Whenever I go there, you don’t see many Asians in general,” she said recently. 

Asian-Americans are the second fastest growing population of older adults in the United States according to Lee’s research. By 2050, nearly 10 percent of Americans who are 65 or older will be Asian-American, her research shows. 

As this population increases, the numbers of Korean and Chinese Americans diagnosed with dementia disorders are expected to spike. 

Therefore, she says, “It is important to develop knowledge and our understanding of East Asian American family caregivers of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias,” or ADRD. 

Lee’s three-year study will focus on whether usage of a pair of digital “chat” applications that are widely popular among Koreans and Chinese Americans can be used to deliver educational services to dementia caregivers. 

Lee herself uses the two apps, WeChat and Kakao Talk, to communicate with her own family and friends. Looking at the apps on her cell phone in her office recently, she said she simply wondered how – or whether – the apps could be used to transmit vital information to caregivers, such as details about upcoming Alzheimer’s support group meetings. 

“I need to utilize this (app) to open up the channel (of information) to this population,” she said, sitting behind her office desk, her cellular phone in hand.

Under the grant, Lee will hire a pair of Master’s and doctoral research assistants. The study began May 1 and continues until 2023.