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ASU prof to share tools with Alzheimer's caregivers at upcoming conference

As with an oxygen mask on a plane, caregivers have to help themselves first.
ASU Alzheimer's researcher to speak to caregivers at Mesa conference.
October 24, 2017

David Coon will share his more than two decades of knowledge with patients and families

Of the more than 5 million people in America living with Alzheimer’s disease, roughly 80 percent are cared for at home. Aside from memory loss, caregivers can expect to encounter symptoms that include agitation, paranoia and sometimes even physical aggression — all in addition to round-the-clock care that includes meal preparation, bathing, doctor’s visits and more.

Caregiver burnout is rampant.

“It can be really, really challenging, and Alzheimer’s often occurs over a good number of years,” said David Coon, associate dean and professor at Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “People [provide in-home care] because they love the individual; this is someone important to them. But that doesn’t mean it comes without associated stressors, challenges and difficulties.”

David Coon

As November is both National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Caregiver Awareness Month, Coon will be speaking about tools caregivers can use to better deal with the challenges associated with the disease at the 2017 Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium Public Conference, taking place from 8 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 9, at the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa.

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Attendees will have the chance to meet with other caregivers and patients in an interactive forum that shares current information and ongoing advances in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s.

“It’s an opportunity to learn more about what’s going on right in their backyard and what might be available to them that would be really helpful in this journey,” Coon said.

Established in 1998, the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium is a statewide collaboration in Alzheimer’s disease research. ASU is one of the consortium’s seven member institutions, which also include Barrow Neurological Institute, Mayo Clinic Arizona and Banner Sun Health Research Institute, among others.

For more than two decades, Coon has been researching effective therapies to allow patients with chronic illnesses and their families and caregivers maintain quality of life. Regina Ralston met Coon when he was presenting at a CarePRO class, where he teaches those therapies and other skills.

Ralston had been a long-distance caregiver for her mother for 10 years, and a 24/7 caregiver for her husband for seven — both had Alzheimer’s. She now works as the director of community relations for About Seniors, an elder-care placement agency, facilitating Parkinson’s caregiver support groups.

“In my experience, there were not a lot of people doing research on caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients,” Ralston said. “It was awesome to see someone dedicating their time to caregivers.”

Some of the best advice she got from Coon was to make sure to take time out for herself every day, even if it was only five minutes, and to stay socially connected, whether through friends, family or support groups, as caregivers often become isolated.

“It’s a little bit like when you’re on an airplane, and they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first,” Coon said. “As hard as that is to hear, if you don’t find ways to take care of yourself, you may become unable to take care of your loved one.”

He’s currently working on a program called EPIC (Early-stage Partners in Care), in which patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s map out a future care plan with their families and caregivers, noting their values and preferences so they can be taken into account when they’re no longer able to give their input. The project was successful in local pilot trials and has received funding from the National Health Institute to scale statewide and into Nevada.

Coon has also researched behavioral interventions for Alzheimer’s patients. Through his “Music & Memory” project, he has been able to show that exposure to music can impact patients’ mood and behavior for the better.

“What I try to do with the interventions I design is maintain quality of life for both the caregiver and the patient,” he said. “Some people say, isn’t it depressing? I have to say it’s not. If you meet the people, the families that are dedicated to working together to help someone on this journey … It’s really very inspiring. It’s the essence of humanity.”

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ASU offers several pathways to a bachelor's degree that save money

ASU offers several ways to earn a degree with reduced tuition costs.
October 24, 2017

Robust community-college transfer program is one way to reduce tuition bill

As Arizona State University tackles the challenge of getting as many people as possible to complete a bachelor’s degrees, it also offers several ways for Arizonans to do it at a reduced tuition rate.

Degree completion is a critical need in Arizona, where 28 percent of adults age 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree, compared with the nationwide rate of 30 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. ASU is working with the state in support of Achieve60AZ, an alliance of 60 community and business groups to make Arizona more competitive by supporting  a goal of achieving 60 percent of adults, ages 25–64, with a professional certificate or college degree by 2030.

By 2020, 68 percent of all jobs in Arizona will require some form of postsecondary education, such as a certificate, two-year, bachelor’s or graduate degree, according to estimates by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. In addition, the Institute of Medicine has recommended that 80 percent of all registered nurses have a bachelor’s degree by 2020.

There are several ways to save money on tuition costs at ASU. The most popular way to pay a reduced rate is by transferring from a community college. ASU, which had about 16,000 transfer students in 2016, saw transfer enrollment more than double in a decade, increasing 124 percent from 2007–08 to 2016–17.

The university has worked closely with community colleges to make transfer as simple as possible, and ASU is still improving the process.

“It should not be rocket science to know what courses you should be taking at your community college that have relevance to the degree here,” said Maria Hesse, vice provost for academic partnerships at ASU.

Typically, students will attend community college for one or two years and pay a much lower tuition rate — $86 per credit hour at the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges — and then transfer those credits to ASU and complete the credits needed for a bachelor’s degree.

A few years ago, ASU set up a transfer agreement with the Maricopa colleges — called the Maricopa-ASU Pathways Program, or MAPP — that specifies exactly which courses are needed for each majorStudents who are unsure of a major can sign up for an “exploratory” track, such as health and life sciences or humanities, fine arts and design. They then take a career-exploration class. and the sequence, so that students can avoid wasting time and money on classes that don’t apply to a degree. Students who meet the requirements are guaranteed admission and get help from ASU advisers while they’re still in community college.

“If you want to maximize the time and the effort and money you’re spending at community college, we’ll show you exactly what to do. This takes all the guesswork out of it,” Hesse said.

ASU also has transfer pathways with other Arizona community colleges, including tribal colleges, as well as institutions in California and other states.

New this year is the ability for students to sign up for a transfer pathway onlineOnline sign-up is not yet available for students in the Maricopa colleges. rather than making an appointment with their advisers.

And students also will now get four years to complete the community-college portion of their studies instead of the three that was previously required. The extra year will allow high school students who take dual-enrollment courses to sign up for a transfer agreement, as well as students who need time to complete remedial classes.

“We wanted the time frame to be long enough so that the first time a student says, ‘I’m interested in going to the university,’ we try to capture their information. We didn’t want the time frame to be a problem,” Hesse said.

ASU has expanded the opportunity for a bachelor’s degree to community college students who earn a vocational degree, such as an associate’s of applied science, in fields such as welding and respiratory therapy, she said. Previously, there was no way for those students to transfer their vocational credits to ASU and then earn a bachelor’s.

“The problem is that at a certain point in many of these people’s careers, they want to become a supervisor, or move up, but they can’t get a bachelor’s degree. It would be like starting from scratch,” she said.

But a few years ago, ASU developed several bachelor’s of applied science degree programs that allows those people to transfer.

“So if I got an AAS in respiratory therapy at Gateway Community College, I can now get a BAS in health sciences and transfer those 60 credits,” Hesse said. People who hold an associate’s degree in aviation mechanics from Chandler-Gilbert Community College can later earn a bachelor’s in aviation from the Polytechnic School at ASU.

Dimi Wassef

Dimi Wassef transferrred to ASU after earning an associate's degree from Estrella Mountain Community College.

"After I high school, I wasn’t sure what the next four years were going to look like for me, and I was unsure what I wanted to do," said Wassef, who started out majoring in biology and then switched to English literature, where the classes "felt like they were meant for me."

The transition required some adjustment at first, but she connected with a professor, studied abroad in London and found a lot of networking opportunities. A senior, Wassef serves as an ASU "transfer ambassador," answering a lot of questionsQuestions about parking and class sizes top the list, she said, along with queries about what it's really like to attend ASU. "As students, we can offer that perspective to them," she said. from prospective transfer students.

"In our culture, there's this idea that right after high school you have to go to a university and move away, but the community colleges offer a good transition and prepares you. It's a more approachable setting than throwing yourself into a very complicated university setting, where you don't use all the resources if you don't know about them," she said.

'You're taking the same classes at much lower cost. There's no better way to go in my opinion."

There are several other ways that students can earn a four-year degree from ASU for less tuition than a traditional program. Here are some examples (tuition amounts are for the fall 2017 semester and do not include fees or housing costs):

Concurrent enrollment programs

ASU partners with the Maricopa Community Colleges in a program to accelerate the path to a bachelor’s of science in nursing. Students begin at a community college, and then start taking ASU Online classes at the same time. By the time they earn their associate’s degree, they have only one more semester at ASU before they earn a BSN. Students in the program pay $435 per credit hour for their ASU Online courses, compared with $702 per credit hour for students in the face-to-face nursing program.

Options by location

Some programs in locations other than Tempe offer reduced tuition. For example, freshmen and sophomores in the Polytechnic School in Mesa and the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences on the West campus receive a 10 percent discount on tuition.

The Colleges at Lake Havasu charge lower tuition as well. The price of a year at Lake Havasu is $6,376 before gift aid and need- and merit-based scholarships.

Stay-in-place in rural Arizona

ASU partners with three institutions in rural areas to offer a handful of bachelor’s degrees on the community college campus with reduced tuition — $2,953 for a full-time course load this semester. For example, students at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher can earn an ASU degree on their campus in organizational leadership, applied leadership, nursing or secondary education. ASU also partners with Arizona Western College in Yuma to offer degrees in secondary education and criminology and criminal justice, and with Central Arizona College in Coolidge in organizational leadership and applied leadership. Leaders from Arizona Western College will visit ASU on Friday to learn more about the university’s college and programs. The university plans to expand this program to other rural Arizona locations.

ASU decides which degrees to offer in these areas after working with the local communities to determine the needs of the biggest employers and which programs the community colleges can prepare students for.

Global Freshmen Academy

Another way to earn credits at a reduced tuition rate is through the Global Freshman Academy online program. Students can choose among 14 freshmen-level courses, such as pre-calculus, English 101 and Introduction to Solar System Astronomy, tuition free, paying a $49 fee to verify their identification. If they pass a course, they can then choose to pay for ASU credit at the rate of $200 per credit hour.

Fast-track degrees

For students who are looking to finish quickly, there are 18 degree options, including health sciences and business communications, that can be completed in two and a half or three years. These options don't have reduced tuition but do lessen the time required to pay for housing for students that choose to live on campus. Find details here.

For more on ASU tuition, click here.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News