You Got to Have Friends

Sacramento resident spearheads innovative approach for Alzheimer’s care

By Caitlin McCulloch
February 2020

In the 1980s, only 10 federally funded research centers for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia existed—and East Sacramento resident (not to mention former Arden Junior High and Rio Americano grad) David Troxell got to spearhead one of them.

“I was the person in charge of creating a network of services at the University of Kentucky Alzheimer’s Research Center,” Troxell says. “Of course, this was in the mid-80s and there was such a stigma around the disease.

“There were very few services available and people simply didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s and dementia. People even used to request brochures of information be sent to them by mail in a blank envelope.”

Today, that stigma has faded, yet Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Someone will develop the disease every 65 seconds. No new drugs have been developed to treat Alzheimer’s in roughly 16 years.

With his partner Virginia Bell, David Troxell decided to focus on developing a new approach to helping those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, which can be as simple as treating them like a best friend.

“The Best Friends Approach is the first to try and take a more positive approach to being a caregiver,” Troxell explains. “There’s a lot you can do to bring out the best in a person, to help them feel safe, secure and purposeful. Ultimately, socialization is very important. What someone with Alzheimer’s needs is a best friend.

“Our approach encourages knowing someone’s life story well, keeping him or her active and engaged. It’s simple. If we were friends, I’d know a lot about you and we’d do things together. This engagement can be very powerful.”

Many others in the field have used the Best Friends Approach and find it invaluable.

“The Best Friends Approach is great for getting staff to really treat those with dementia in an individualized way,” says Nancy Schier Anzelmo, a gerontologist and founder of Alzheimer’s Care Associates in Rocklin, as well as a professor at Sacramento State.

“I believe that the Best Friends Approach helps people understand the disease, not treat them like something’s wrong with them. It makes it more humanistic and compassionate.”

After finding success with publishing the Best Friends Approach (available in eight languages and found all over the world), Troxell still juggles his own local practice, authors new books, volunteers at Sacramento’s Asian Community Center and enjoys public speaking. Though he travels to speak across the country, David Troxell has settled into East Sacramento’s Fabulous 40s neighborhood.

“I love the neighborly-ness that East Sacramento brings,” he says. “You can be having a glass of wine on your porch and talk to so many people spur-of-the-moment. Plus, I love the coffee culture—I’m an addict! You can often find me at our local neighborhood spots like Chocolate Fish or Coffee Works.”

David Troxell also participates in the Fab 40s 5K run/walk, which benefits the Alzheimer’s Association of California, and the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Though David Troxell is passionate about treating and tackling the disease, he hopes that one day there will be an end to the fight.

“Personally, I dream of the day that I will be put out of business,” he says. “When we cure the disease, maybe I’ll go work at a coffeeshop!”

For more information, visit

Caitlin Mcculloch can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.


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