Our Impact: Dr. Scott Wilks & LA-GWEP

During Social Work Month, we are sharing the impact that LSU School of Social Work has on our community and reminding you to join us for our Back with Impact event on April 26. 

older woman in wheelchair in doctor's office using a dementia engagement kit

This patient is using a dementia engagement kit which is a box of items used to assist persons with dementia in remaining calm and stimulated during their visits to primary care clinics. 

Dr. Kathy Jo Carstarphen

This week, we are featuring the work of Professor Scott Wilks and his team at the Louisiana Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (LA-GWEP). Dr. Scott Wilks is the Program Director for LA-GWEP and the Director of the LSU Healthy Aging Research Center. LA-GWEP is a five-year, $3.73 million initiative. As a partnership between Ochsner Health New Orleans, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, and LSU School of Social Work, LA-GWEP impacts residents across South Louisiana and beyond. 

The mission of LA-GWEP is to improve health and wellbeing of Louisiana residents living with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (ADRD) and their caregivers; and improve dementia-friendly practice in Louisiana primary care settings by educating health professionals in medicine, nursing, and social work. Alzheimer's is the fifth leading cause of death in the nation and is underdiagnosed.  Dr. Wilks and his team are determined to share information about ADRD to help families experience fewer incorrect diagnoses, resulting in faster, better treatment plans.  

Through the partnership with LA-GWEP, Ochsner Health has been nationally recognized as an Age-Friendly Health System by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Medical students working with Ochsner are now required to participate in dementia care training. They are one of the first programs in the country to mandate this kind of training for medical students.  Their students have also been trained to work with caregivers via telehealth so that patients and caregivers can have easier access to care from trained providers. Nursing students at Chamberlain University also have a similar dementia training requirement. 

LA-GWEP also improves care for patients by training providers on dementia-friendly practices. Speakers have included providers, diagnosed patients, and caregivers. These seminars improve caregivers’ chances of keeping the diagnosed person in the home longer and delaying institutionalization.  

Another way that Wilks and his team are improving ADRD care is by offering resources in doctor’s offices. They provide dementia engagement kits in patient waiting rooms. These kits contain physical activities for patients to help diminish anxiety and keep them meaningfully busy while they wait for their appointments. They also provide small reference cards for healthcare providers to keep in their pockets so that they have easy access to reminders about assessment and diagnosis of ADRD. 

Wilks also took a moment to praise caregivers. “I never knew how strong they truly were until I got into the research,” he said. “They are the angels of this Earth.” He explained that ADRD caregivers together take on work equivalent to $300 billion annually that families would be forced to spend if they had to seek care elsewhere. “Anything we can do to highlight the heroic activities these folks engage in everyday and to find some ways to ease their burden, we’ll do.” 

Dr. Scott WIlks

Dr. Scott Wilks, LSU School of Social Work Professor
Fellow, The Gerontological Society of America
John A. Hartford Foundation Faculty Scholar in Geriatric Social Work

Dr. Wilks’ plans include remaining steadfast in his commitment to older adult health and wellbeing to train the next generation of ADRD caregivers and healthcare providers. He has recently submitted the proposal for the second five-year term for LA-GWEP funding. The biggest change for the second grant cycle would be to expand offerings across Mississippi. 

Dr. Wilks offered thanks to his team and to everyone involved in this project. It has “enormous scope with so many moving parts and all the team members are so incredibly giving of their time and expertise” and he is “grateful to be along for ride.” 

LSU School of Social Work is proud to share the work of Dr. Wilks’ and his team at LA-GWEP as they improve the lives of patients diagnosed with dementia, their caregivers, and their families across South Louisiana.  

For more information on LA-GWEP: https://la-gwep.com/