How A Rural South Florida Community is Facing the Alzheimer’s Crisis Together

Special Guest Blog By Dr. Lisa Wiese, Associate Professor, C.E. Lynn College of Nursing, Florida Atlantic University

More than 690,000 Floridians are living in rural communities. Faced with challenges like increased poverty rates and a lack of access to healthcare services, families are disproportionately impacted by the effects of Alzheimer’s and other dementia. However, these same communities have used the resources available to build resilience, managing multiple barriers unique to their own culture. 

The Glades is a rural area located south of Lake Okeechobee in portions of Glades, Hendry and Palm Beach counties and home to just over 44,000. Like many rural areas in Florida, the communities that make up this region are impacted by a lack of resources. However, they have used what they have to address many of these challenges. 

A lack of access to transportation has been addressed by neighbors offering informal ride shares to drive others to appointments or scheduling the Go Glades bus for older adults at $3 a ride. Barriers to telehealth, a virtual service connecting patients to doctors, has been addressed by local high school students who are training adults how to use grant-funded Chromebooks to access email and Zoom. 

The Glades community has even formed a faith-based health educators group to decrease dementia-related stigma and lack of understanding of dementia disease-prevention activities that are feasible for rural residents. This approach is modeled after a highly successful “Faith Moves Mountains” model by Schoenberg to decrease chronic disease in Appalachia. The educators and research assistants are actually stakeholders in the community who are committed to improving health in their communities.  

This movement across the Glades has blossomed into partnerships with the local Diabetes Coalition, the American Heart Association, the BeWell Foundation and nearby Florida Atlantic University (FAU) kidney health nurses, environmental health educators and researchers, social workers, gerontology and public health nurses. Together, the team offers monthly blood pressure, BMI, HgA1C, cognitive, kidney and environmental health screenings at various churches. Blood pressures are being checked at organizational meetings and recorded/tracked by local nurses.  Churches have formed neighborhood walking groups and online chair yoga sessions. 

Overseeing all of this community engagement is a non-profit organization known as Healthier Glades funded by Palm Healthcare Foundation. Their director is from the Glades region, a social worker who understands the complex needs of the region, and the chair of the Community Advisory Board. She is involved with schools, programs, civil services and PATCH (Planned Approach to Community Health), which is a group of over 30 organizations serving the rural area who meet monthly. In addition, local Palm Beach State College and FAU Nursing students are conducting awareness campaigns and making follow-up phone calls to help residents and their caregivers to connect them to these many resources that are available. For residents, resources are easily accessed through one clearing house called the Lake Okeechobee Rural Health Network.

One barrier the community has been unable to lower is the lack of dementia diagnosis by local providers. Understandably, when they are seeing dozens of patients daily ranging from the migrant farmworker families to young mothers and older residents, their time is limited to conduct the more in-depth cognitive evaluation that is required for determining treatment. However, even here this is hope.  

Support by the Florida Department of Health is enabling the team to address what matters most to providers and their staff and to provide nurse practitioners in making home visits for conducting the in-depth exams. These strands of connectedness empower residents to pursue healthy living choices to lower the risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementia and strengthen their resilience for achieving their goal of aging in place. 

The Alzheimer’s Association has a variety of resources to support rural families. The Brain Bus travels the state visiting rural and at-risk communities thanks to support from the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas Counties. Assistance is available for those facing Alzheimer’s or other dementia through the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 800.272.3900. Consultants are standing by to offer personalized guidance, caregiving information and support. For more information on Alzheimer’s, visit 

Additional resources for Glades County residents:

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