William Hu - “There’s a Lot of Good Work Going On, but Not Enough Credit Is Given to the People”




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Dec 02, 2017
by Mirva Villa
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William Hu - “There’s a Lot of Good Work Going On, but Not Enough Credit Is Given to the People”

Leading physician scientist reflects on challenges building dementia-friendly initiatives William Hu, pictured above, has played an active role internationally in promoting dementia-friendly communities

“I hope that we can come up with a concrete action plan to disseminate and share the best practices in dementia-friendly initiatives and communities,” says William Hu, speaking on the third day of Changing Minds: Innovations in Dementia Care and Dementia.

Hu, an assistant professor of neurology at Emory University, has his eyes set on the future. Trained
as a neurologist and neuroscientist, Hu spends a lot of his time working toward improving the early diagnosis of dementia, and for the past two years has been involved in promoting dementia-friendly communities.

“We have been trying really hard to have an international forum where the lessons from the countries that have been doing dementia-friendly communities for some time can be shared with other countries that are just gearing up to do this.”

When Hu heard about this Salzburg Global session, he saw its potential in contributing to global efforts on improving dementia care.

“I was very excited when I heard that this was happening,” he says. “This really is a continuation of the global effort to talk about what a dementia-friendly community actually means, and how we get there.”

There are great efforts globally toward creating dementia-friendly initiatives and promoting inclusive communities, but several challenges hinder the rate of progress.

Hu says, “One is finding a driver for the initiative. Most of us are doing this as addition to our day jobs, and so finding somebody who will take it on as their primary focus has been a challenge not only felt in the States but also elsewhere.

“Number two, [the] challenge really is the resources and funding. How are you going to get the signage [and] the website hosting? How are you going to pay for travels to learn dementia-friendly practices from elsewhere?

“And finally, a huge challenge is convincing decision-makers that this is something worthwhile doing. The decision-makers usually have a set of goals of their own, and now we’re trying to convince them that having a dementia-friendly community or practice is a positive thing. But how do we compete with other goals such as profit margins, quality measures and the request of shareholders?”

Hu’s day job is closely linked to the dementia cause. His laboratory focuses on using spinal fluid, plasma imaging and neuropsychological measures to provide the most accurate diagnosis as early as possible.

“What that means is that whenever somebody has very mild symptoms of forgetfulness or word-finding difficulties, we can tell very early on whether the Alzheimer’s changes are present in the brain,” says Hu. Part of his research is patient-oriented, which has allowed him to frequently meet people with dementia, with the conversations going beyond the clinical responsibilities of Hu’s work.

“We get to hear a lot about their concerns on the day-to-day level, which is really what got me into dementia advocacy and dementia-friendly communities.”

Speaking further on what kind of actions he hopes to come out of the session, Hu hopes to see ways of recognizing and promoting the work of ordinary people in dementia care.

“I know firsthand that there’s a lot of good work going on but not enough credit is given to the people who do the good work. A lot of the time it’s the people who have been trained by the professionals, so it’s regular citizens doing the good work. How do we feature these people?”

Hu reflects on the story of two customs officers at Heathrow Airport, who went out of their way to help out a woman confused about where she was traveling. “I’m sure that was not in their job description, but they did it. So how do we reward them, and how do we provide incentives for others to follow their example? That’s what I’d like to get out of this.”

A lot remains to be done for dementia-friendly communities. What motivates Hu to keep working in this field?

“The spirit of people living with dementia and their caregivers. It’s very inspiring to talk to them and hear of their life’s accomplishments and what they still hope to accomplish in spite of the disease. There is a strong human will in illness that comes out, and I’m constantly humbled by interacting with people living with dementia and hearing what insight they have into the disease, but also bigger things in life.”

The session, Changing Minds: Innovations in Dementia Care and Dementia-Friendly Communities, is part of Salzburg Global Seminar multi-year series Health and Health Care Innovation in the 21st Century. This year’s session is held in partnership with The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice and The Mayo Clinic, with support from the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Tsao Foundation, and the University of Texas.