North­eastern Uni­ver­sity asso­ciate pro­fessor of nursing Alice Bonner says that fam­i­lies are often the pri­mary care­givers for people with Alzheimer’s dis­ease and thus need more sup­port and resources to effec­tively care for their loved ones. In par­tic­ular, she said, cities like Boston can do more to advo­cate for these family members.

There’s a huge problem with access to respite ser­vices in the city and very lim­ited adult day health ser­vices,” said Bonner, a renowned expert whose research focuses on improving dementia care for people and fam­i­lies living with Alzheimer’s dis­ease. “We’re not doing a good job taking care of our caregivers.”

To address this issue, the City of Boston recently announced a ground­breaking ini­tia­tive to offer sup­port ser­vices to those with Alzheimer’s and their fam­i­lies and raise aware­ness about the impor­tance of early detec­tion. North­eastern was named the city initiative’s first aca­d­emic partner, thanks in large part to Bonner’s national lead­er­ship in this field. As a case in point, she par­tic­i­pated in a stake­holder group the mayor con­vened in March 2013. Other ini­tia­tive part­ners include the Alzheimer’s Asso­ci­a­tion and Boston Med­ical Center.

An esti­mated 30,000 people across the city have loved ones with Alzheimer’s dis­ease, including Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who spear­headed the ini­tia­tive. “Until you really go through it or a family member goes through it, people don’t fully under­stand the impacts on the family,” Walsh said Friday at a press con­fer­ence announcing his ini­tia­tive. He described his late grand­mother living with Alzheimer’s and the excep­tional care she received from her daughter Mar­garet, the mayor’s aunt.

A sig­nif­i­cant com­po­nent of the mayor’s ini­tia­tive is its part­ner­ship with the national Alzheimer’s Work­place Alliance, which is part of the Alzheimer’s Asso­ci­a­tion. Boston and North­eastern are mem­bers of the alliance, which aims to ensure that employees of member orga­ni­za­tions have both the edu­ca­tion and resources they need to appro­pri­ately nav­i­gate the dif­fi­cult journey of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, both as patients and as caregivers.

The mayor’s ini­tia­tive includes a pro­gram to recruit and train vol­un­teers to pro­vide free, much-​​needed respite ser­vices to care­givers across Boston. With an esti­mated 10,000 indi­vid­uals living with Alzheimer’s in the city, these ser­vices will be invalu­able, Boston Elderly Care Com­mis­sioner Emily Shea said in an interview.

Health pro­fes­sionals expect the number of people with Alzheimer’s to increase in the coming years as the average age of the world’s pop­u­la­tion con­tinues to increase at an unprece­dented rate. By 2025, the city will see an esti­mated 25 per­cent increase in the number of Alzheimer’s patients living in the city, and by the middle of the cen­tury the number will have increased three­fold, according to Jim Wessler, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Bonner noted that Northeastern’s role in the mayor’s ini­tia­tive would enable a well­spring of exciting oppor­tu­ni­ties across research, edu­ca­tion, and ser­vice. Stu­dents will have the oppor­tu­nity to work with the city and the Alzheimer’s Asso­ci­a­tion to pro­vide vol­un­teer edu­ca­tion and out­reach ser­vices to care­givers across Boston. Long-​​term elderly care will also be an increased focus in the School of Nursing curriculum.

Northeastern’s work on the city’s ini­tia­tive con­tinues its increased focus on research related to Alzheimer’s dis­ease and long-​​term elderly care under Bonner’s direc­tion and the efforts align with Northeastern’s emphasis on use-​​inspired research in health, one of the university’s core research themes. This includes the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences and its dean Terry Fulmer’s focus on bol­stering research pro­grams in the areas of healthy aging, chronic dis­ease, and disability.

When we train new nurses, many of them will work with older adults—that’s just the way the pop­u­la­tion is going,” Bonner said. “So, anyone working in pri­mary care really needs a good under­standing of care of people with dementia.” That is pre­cisely what they will get at Northeastern.

Having part­ners like the Alzheimer’s Asso­ci­a­tion, like North­eastern, is really impor­tant to us to be able to get where we want to be,” Shea said. “With the training piece and with the respite vol­un­teers there’s a lot of syn­ergy between the City of Boston and North­eastern and what we want to accomplish.”