Guest Blog: Rural Dementia Research in Action – by Debra Morgan

APO’s Rural and Remote Dementia Care Collection brings together some of the key policy and research reports that explore the experiences and requirements of those living with dementia and those caring for them in personal and professional capacities in challenging geographical locations. Dr Debra Morgan shares with us the Rural Dementia Action Research (RaDAR) program she has been leading.

Established in 2003, the Rural Dementia Action Resarch (RaDAR) program is an interdisciplinary group of knowledge users and researchers based at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, with collaborators elsewhere in Canada and the UK. RaDAR’s community-based participatory research program is focussed on improving healthcare delivery for people with mild cognitive impairment and dementia and their caregivers in rural and remote communities. Rural settings often have older populations than cities, but fewer primary health care, specialist, and support services available and accessible locally. 

RaDAR investigators share a research program as well as affiliated studies and projects focusing on the diagnosis, management, and care of individuals with dementia, and their caregivers. As one of 19 teams in the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, RaDAR is the only team focused exclusively on rural dementia issues. In the last two decades the RaDAR program has produced a range of publications on rural dementia topics including caregiving, health services, neuropsychology, telehealth and technology.

Since 2008 the RaDAR research program has been guided by the Knowledge Network in Rural and Remote Dementia Care, which engages people living with dementia, families, health care providers and policy makers.

RaDAR’s earliest study, launched in 2004, was a research demonstration project to develop and evaluate a Rural and Remote Memory Clinic (RRMC) at the University of Saskatchewan to provide access to specialist diagnosis and management of atypical and complex cases of suspected dementia. To reduce repeated travel over long distances, the one-stop RRMC streamlines diagnosis by coordinating interdisciplinary assessments on one day, and uses telehealth for follow-up appointments.

The team’s experiences with the Rural and Remote Memory Clinic highlighted the challenges of dementia diagnosis and management in rural settings. These observations and direction from our stakeholders led to a focus on rural primary care for dementia. Since 2013, we have collaborated with rural primary health care teams to improve access to dementia guidelines and support early detection and diagnosis. The resulting Rural Primary Health Care Memory Clinics are now operating in four communities as part of our ongoing research program, with plans to continue scaling up to other teams and a series of projects underway to evaluate outcomes.

More information about the RaDAR program is available in a new book, titled Remote and rural dementia care: Policy, research, and practice. The book is edited by Anthea Innes (UK), Jane Farmer (Australia) and myself and provides an international perspective on the experiences and needs of those living with dementia and those caring for them in rural and remote settings, along with strategies and opportunities for improving rural dementia practice.

Dr Debra Morgan is a Professor and Chair, Rural Health Delivery, at the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture (CCHSA) and Director, Rural and Remote Memory Clinic at the University of Saskatchewan.