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A new study finds that a popular dementia telehealth care program has three benefits: It boosts outcomes for people with the disease, eases the burden on paid caregivers and lowers Medicare costs, according to a new study.

Researchers from UCSF detailed their program in a study published today in JAMA Internal Medicine. The team evaluated the program on 780 people with dementia. The people were randomized into two groups: The first received support from the telecare platform Care Ecosystem, while the second group received usual care.

The scientists gauged how well things went for one year. All of the people in the groups were similar in age, severity of dementia and other diseases. The caregivers were also divided up so both groups had people of about the same ages. People in the telehealth group had average Medicare costs $526 lower than those receiving the usual model of care.

More than 25 organizations — some of them health systems — have used the program since 2014.

The telecare program will be available in July 2024. It will be available to people who have dementia and live either at home or in assisted living communities. They must be covered by Medicare fee-for-service or have dual Medicare and Medicaid eligibility. The program includes navigators that assist with drugs, transportation, respite care and daycare.

“The patients most likely to benefit from the Care Ecosystem are those with moderate-to-severe dementia and those who have caregivers suffering from caregiver depression,” first author Elan Guterman, MD, a researcher in the UCSF Department of Neurology, said in a statement. “Our research has shown that meeting with a navigator and their associated clinical team led to considerable savings, likely from averting unnecessary visits to the ER,” she noted.

“Patients who visited the ER more frequently were also more likely to benefit from working with a navigator,” she added.

The navigator will help people who don’t have a caregiver who is willing to support them in the program. The navigator may help set up a conservatorship or assist with a long-term living placement if that’s needed. Previous research on the program found that the number of caregivers with depression declined from 13.4% to 7.9%.