June 15, 2022

How Alzheimer’s San Diego Provides Care and Comfort in Their Community

National Philanthropic Trust’s donors recommend thousands of grants every year. This new series, Grants In Action highlights the breadth of causes and organizations NPT’s donors are supporting with grant recommendations from their donor-advised fund accounts.

Author David Alexander Bullock, Guest Blogger

“Dementia is the great equalizer because it can affect anyone, irrespective of their race, class, education and social background.” That’s how Eugenia Welch, President and CEO of Alzheimer’s San Diego characterizes Alzheimer’s disease, which the CDC estimates affects roughly 5.8 million people in the United States, primarily those 65 and older.

Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia, affecting cognitive health in patients, including memory, speech and behavior. Nationally, Alzheimer’s disease is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death, but in San Diego County, home to over 3.2 million, the disease is the third leading cause of death, according to a municipal study.

And although the National Institutes of Health and the broader scientific and medical communities spend billions on research on Alzheimer’s, there is no cure. There are promising treatments in the offing, but today, the best course for patients is the kind of training, support and care that organizations like Alzheimer’s San Diego provide.

Alzheimer’s San Diego’s work ranges from education and training to clinical research to outreach, care and community.

Established in 2015, the organization was created to provide no-cost services and support for those in need in the area. “We tailor our services to our community,” Welch explains. “We are 100% local and independent and serve anyone in San Diego County.” With her full-time staff of 24 licensed and trained social workers, Welch says the organization provides basic educational tools for someone who has just been diagnosed, as well as classes for those living with Alzheimer’s. Last year Alzheimer’s San Diego served more than 20,000 individuals with free-of-charge training, clinical support, education and outreach. The organization also coordinates support groups, activities and outings for individuals and their caretakers, which Welch says provides an important sense of comfort and community.

Research is another major area; Alzheimer’s San Diego collaborates with UC San Diego’s medical school, and other local partners, to study the disease through clinical trials. One increasingly important function of the organization is educating local law enforcement and first responders on how to better serve and protect those who suffer from the disease. Because symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s can be mistaken for other behavioral disorders, Alzheimer’s San Diego believes it is vitally important that law enforcement be aware of these differences so they can properly help patients.

“Sadly, we have all seen the stories in the news where someone with dementia is misinterpreted as being belligerent,” Welch says, adding, “We are really trying to teach local law enforcement how to recognize that someone might have dementia.” Donor funding can support new and exploratory initiatives such as law enforcement training, specialized care and new medical partnerships.

Because the majority of the organization’s revenue comes from donor and grant funding, Welch says that DAFs play a major role in allowing Alzheimer’s San Diego to do what they do. 2021 saw the organization’s best “year-end giving to date” and “major donations through donor-advised funds” are still steadily on the rise.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic underscored both the importance of in-person connection with family and loved ones and the interconnected nature of major health priorities. Welch was “blown away” by the generosity and commitment donors displayed during such a turbulent time. Alzheimer’s will continue to impact millions of Americans and their families, but organizations like Alzheimer’s San Diego ensure that they have support and connection they need to face the disease fully informed and the ability to continue to live their lives with dignity and community.