By 2050, a projected 16 million Americans will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Family members now care for an estimated 83 percent of Alzheimer's patients. But that has serious economic and health consequences.

Institutions of higher education in New Jersey, and the Otsuka company are launching a one-year certificate program where students can learn how to help Alzheimer's patients get better care or move through the continuum of care more seamlessly.

The collaboration — between Rowan University, Rutgers Camden, Otsuka, and Camden County College — is launching the academic component at the county college where students can become journey coordinators for patients with Alzheimer's.

"We think this has to be a mature, skilled person, that can stay with the family through the entire journey. Hence the name, journey coordinator," said Kris Kolluri, CEO of the Rowan University/Rutgers–Camden board of governors. "There are informal positions that are out there — where people try to be coordinators and facilitators, but we're actually looking for something more than that."

The goal is to train Alzheimer's journey coordinators with a strong understanding of the disease, but with an  individual-centered philosophy.

Kolluri said he and his colleagues are thinking about this program as part of a paradigm shift. Right now, he said, there simply aren't candidates with the right training to fulfill such a role.

This isn't about waiting for a call to come from the family, he said. The journey coordinator will check in regularly and will proactively engage in every facet of a family's life.

For Lisa Winstel, Caregiver Action Network's chief operating officer, that's great news. Caregivers face increased risk of depression and chronic disease, she said. And they struggle with uncertainty over how quickly their loved one's symptoms may progress.

"We're going to have a reduction of that stress of the unknown because they're going to have that journey coordinator for them, and also that journey coordinator is probably going to help them remember to take care of themselves," she said. "So we're going to start to see a much healthier process through this devastating journey."

In the first year, the program hopes to recruit 20 students with classes by fall of 2018.