Making Alzheimer's info accessible for people with visual impairments

By MIKE DEL ROSSO

AJ Burnett and Library

AJ Burnett and Library

Caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease is difficult. Doing so when you're blind is even more challenging. That's why Perkins Trustee Paul Raia, who is also vice president of the local Alzheimer's Association chapter, has launched an initiative to make Alzheimer's literature available in audio form to caregivers with visual impairments.

He's enlisted the Perkins Library to record audio versions of publications that offer information and advice about caring for people with Alzheimer's.

Raia, a graduate of Perkins School for the Blind, said he started the project because an increasing number of caregivers have difficulty reading traditional print materials.

"I noticed many people who care for Alzheimer's patients—often the person's spouse or a loved one—are visually impaired," he said. That's because both Alzheimer's and visual impairments are "age-associated conditions," he said, predominantly affecting people over the age of 65.

An estimated 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, according to the National Institute on Aging, and more than two-thirds are cared for by family members and friends.

For many people with Alzheimer's, the most effective treatment is habilitation therapy, where the caregiver evokes positive emotions in a patient when they become confused or disoriented. "It's the best treatment available," Raia said, and will be the focus of the material recorded at the Perkins Library.

Two of Boston's best-known voices will narrate the material—Boston-area meteorologist A.J. Burnett and Magic 106.7's veteran midday radio host Nancy Quill.

"The Mass./N.H. chapter of the Alzheimer's Association is once again the innovator in terms of getting this information out to as many people as possible, including those who are visually and print impaired," said Burnett, who is on the association's board of directors.

Burnett, who also volunteers at the Perkins Library's recording studio, said the project "marries two fantastic groups who are doing tremendous work for their respective constituencies."

"I was very proud to be a part of this," said Quill, who also co-hosts the annual Greater Boston Memory Walk, sponsored by the Alzheimer's Association. "Usually voice-over artists get paid for what we do. It's all kind of a business. But this was nice to give back. I felt that it was important to help people who can use this service."

The audio material is expected to be available for download from the Alzheimer's Association's website by late 2013. Eventually, Raia hopes to make the audio files accessible to a national audience through the Library of Congress.