Valerie Cotter is among the first to study the early stages of dementia and how it affects the lives of older adults.
“I feel it is important to understand how hope, social support, self-esteem and family relationships allow people to cope with the disease and its diagnosis,” said Cotter, the director of the Adult Health Nurse Practitioner Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
Cotter said that advances in medical technology have made it possible to diagnose the early stages of dementia, and thus give nurses more ability to help those afflicted.
Cotter worked with the Alzheimer’s Association of the Delaware Valley in 2005 to start the first specialized support group for people with early-stage dementia.
Since dementia can be caused by or associated with so many other diseases and conditions, and because people generally live with dementia for many years, she said it is therefore important to treat each person individually.
“I am really interested in the psycho-social implications to having the diagnosis in the first place and how, as nurses, we can help each person and each family adjust to that diagnosis,” she said.
Cotter said she is particularly interested in how the early-stage dementia patient deals with delirium. “It is an acute brain disorder caused by an acute medical problem,” she explained. “When an older person gets medically ill and becomes confused and disoriented, he or she needs help from the family, and we as nurses can really help in that regard.”
Cotter said she has long loved working with the older adult population.
“I think because they have had such interesting life experiences, to be able to understand them better as individuals in a health-care setting is exciting, and I learn from them all the time.”