It’s Time to Pass RAISE Family Caregivers Act

Published in the Pawtucket Times on September 18, 2017

Editor’s Note: Four months after S. 1028, titled the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act, was introduced in the Senate, an updated House companion bill (H.R. 3759) gets dropped into the chamber’s legislative hopper. On September 13, Reps. Gregg Harper (R-MS) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) along with original cosponsors Reps Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced the legislation that calls for the development of a strategy to support family caregivers. It was referred to House Committee on Education and the Workforce. At press time, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) will shortly become a cosponsor of H.R. 3759.

On May 3, Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), the Chairman of Senate Aging Committee, and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) reintroduced the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, with Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) Michael Bennet (D-CO) signing on as cosponsors. At press time, there are now 12 cosponsors. Sen. Collins and Baldwin and Reps. Harper and Castor first introduced the family caregiver legislation in July 2015, and it passed the Senate unanimously in December 2015.

Eight days later the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unanimously passed this legislation by a voice vote later that month and the bipartisan legislation will now be considered by the full Senate.

The Nuts and Bolts

The House bill introduced this week is updated from the Senate version introduced in early May. That Senate version is almost identical to the Senate-passed version from 2015.

The RAISE Family Caregivers Act directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop and update a national strategy to support family caregivers. The legislation would also create a Family Caregiving Advisory Council comprised of relevant Federal agencies and non-federal members, also including family caregivers, older adults with long-term care needs, individuals with disabilities, employers, health and social service providers, advocacy organizations engaged in family caregiving, state and local officials, and others with expertise in family caregiving.

The newly established Advisory Council would be charged with making recommendations to the Secretary. The strategy would be updated to reflect new
developments. The Advisory Council’s initial report would include an initial inventory and assessment of federally funded caregiver efforts that would be incorporated into the initial strategy. The strategy would then identify recommended actions that government, providers, communities, and others could take to support family caregivers.

The activities under the bill would be funded from existing funding appropriated for the Department of Health and Human Services. No new funding is
authorized and it would sunset in five years.

This bipartisan caregiver legislation has been endorsed by over 60 aging and disability organizations, including the AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, the w Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Arc.

Shouldering Caregiver Burdens

“Every day, more than 40 million ordinary Americans take on the challenge of caring for parents, spouses, children and adults with disabilities, and other loved ones so they can live independently at home and in their communities,” says AARP Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy A. LeaMond. “The RAISE Family Caregivers Act is a commonsense, bipartisan step to recognize and support our nation’s family caregivers. AARP appreciates the leadership of Representatives Harper and Castor, and we urge Congress to pass this important piece of legislation,” she notes.

According to LeaMond, the nation’s family caregivers assist loved ones with eating, bathing, dressing, transportation, medical tasks, managing finances, and more. Many do this while working full time and raising families. The unpaid care family caregivers provide—37 billion hours valued at about $470 billion annually—helps delay or prevent more costly care and unnecessary hospitalizations, saving taxpayer dollars.

“Caregiving is, in one way or another, now an inevitable part of everyone’s future,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “It has been said that if you ask people about caregiving they fall into one of three or more categories: They know a caregiver, they are a caregiver or they will require a caregiver. AARP works hard at the state and federal level to direct resources and support to family caregivers. In Rhode Island, we have fought successfully for temporary caregiver insurance (TCI), the CARE Act, accessory dwelling unit legislation and a new fund to help offset the cost of ‘livable’ home improvements that benefit caregiving and make aging in place easier.”

“In the upcoming special session of the General Assembly, another key caregiving bill will be before lawmakers,” Connell added. “Earned Paid Sick Leave will be especially helpful to working family caregivers whose employers do not offer paid time off. Temporary caregiver insurance requires several days advanced notice. That can be helpful, for example, if a family member has a scheduled test or medical procedure. Earned paid sick leave would allow employees to used paid sick time when they are called away to attend to immediate emergencies.”

“The RAISE Family Caregivers Act is intended to provide a policy framework for improving caregiver support from national level down to states, cities and towns. In short, where the caregiver rubber meets the road,” Connell said.

Caregiver Legislative Proposal a Bipartisan Issue

According to AARP’s Public Policy Institute, there are 40 million family caregivers in the United States who provided an estimated $470 billion in uncompensated long-term care in 2013. In the Ocean State at any time during the year, an estimated 134,000 Rhode Island family caregivers step up to provide 124 million hours of care for an aging parent or loved one, most often helping them to live independently in their own homes.

With many caregivers putting their own health at risk, experiencing experience high-levels of stress and have a greater incidence of chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, and depression, these individuals need the support and assistance that the enactment of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act could help bring about. Both sides of the aisle must put their political differences aside and push for passage. Both Republicans and Democrats shoulder caregiving duties.

Quickly passing the RAISE Family Caregivers Act in the Senate and House and sending it to the desk of President Donald Trump for his signature is the right thing to do.

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The Growing Incidence of Alzheimer’s

Published in Pawtucket Times on April 26, 2016

While Congress and states are nation grappling with how to put the brakes to one of the largest public health crises in recent times, the escalating Alzheimer’s disease (AD) epidemic, the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association releases its annual snap shot detailing statistics on the impact of Alzheimer’s and dementia on caregivers and health care costs..

According to the 2016 Alzheimer’s disease Facts and Figures, released on March 30, 2016, this year nearly 16 million Alzheimer’s caregivers will provide 18 billion hours of unpaid care to 5.4 million afflicted with this devastating disorder. That care had an estimated value of $221.3 billion, says the report.

But that’s not all, this recently released report notes that two out of three people believe that Medicare will help them over costly nursing facility costs. Sorry it won’t. AD also has a direct impact on a caregiver’s pocketbook, too, the researchers found. More than one-third of those surveyed say they were forced by caregiving duties to reduce their hours at work or just quit their job entirely. As a result of these actions their income dropped by $15,000 compared to the previous year. Eleven percent of caregivers were forced to cut back on spending for their children’s education in order to provide support.

The 79 page Alzheimer’s Association report notes that both physical, emotional and financial support required by a person with AD may ultimately deprive family and friend care givers basic necessities, such as food, transportation and medical care. The Facts and Figures report reveals that these caregivers were 28 percent more likely to eat less or go hungry while contributing care to someone with AD, and one-fifth even sacrificed their own medical care by cutting back on doctor visits. Overall, nearly half of the caregivers say they cut back on their own expenses to afford dementia-related care for their family member or friend.

“The devastating emotional and physical effects of caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease has been well-studied,” said Beth Kallmyer, MSW, Vice President of Constituent Services for the Alzheimer’s Association. “However, this new report shows, for the first time, the enormous personal financial sacrifices that millions of care contributors must make every day. These sacrifices jeopardize the financial security of individuals and families, as well as their access to basic needs and health care.”

This year’s Facts and Figures report found that 13 percent of family or friend caregivers sold personal belongings, such as a car, to help pay for costs related to dementia, while nearly half tapped into savings or retirement funds. On average, caregivers, many of whom do not live with the person they’re caring for, spent more than $5,000 a year of their own money to care for someone with AD; however, amounts varied with many spending tens of thousands of dollars per year.
Incidents of AD is Fast Growing

The Facts and Figures report says that out of the 5.4 million (of all ages) afflicted with AD, an estimated 5.2 million are age 65 and over. Yes, one in nine people having the cognitive disorder. Approximately 200,000, having early onset AD, are under age 65.

Also, the recently released Facts and Figures report warns that we are truly in the midst of an AD epidemic as the baby boomers grow older. By 2050, researchers say that someone in the United States will develop AD every 33 seconds. Without a medical breakthroughs to prevent or cure, the age 65 and over population with AD, the incidence is expected to nearly triple, from 5.2 million to a projected 13.8 million. Some say may be even as high as 16 million. It’s the only disease among the top 10 causes of death in America that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed. .

Additionally, this year’s Facts and Figure report notes that AD is officially listed as the sixth-leading cause of death in this country. It is the fifth-leading cause of death for people age 65 and older. With the graying of America, AD will become a more common cause of death. At age 70, 61 percent of those with AD are expected to die before the age of 80 compared with 30 percent of people without the cognitive disorder — a rate twice as high, says the report.

The Typical Care Giver

The Facts and Figures report puts the face on a typical caregiver. Approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women, and 34 percent are age 65 or older. Forty one percent have a household income of $50,000 or less.

AD takes a devastating toll on the health of caregivers, says the Facts and Figures report. Nearly 60 percent of those taking care of loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia report that their emotional stress being high or very high. About 40 percent suffer from depression. One in five care givers cut back on their own physician visits because of their caregiving responsibilities. And, among caregivers, 74 percent report they are “somewhat” to “very” concerned about maintaining their own health since becoming a caregiver.

A Huge Cost on the Health Care System

The report’s researchers warn that the AD epidemic might just bankrupt the nation’s Medicare program. In 2016, total payments for health care, long-term care and hospice are estimated to be $236 billion for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, with just under half of the costs paid by Medicare. Nearly one in every five Medicare dollars is spent on people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In 2050, it will be one in every three dollars

Medicare and Medicaid are expected to cover $160 billion, or 68 percent, of the total health care and long-term care payments for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Seeing a huge rise in AD over the last two years, federal and state officials are gearing up to strategize a battle to fight the impending epidemic.

A Call to Action

Yes, the AD epidemic is here, right in Rhode Island. Everyone is personally touched by either caring for a family member with the cognitive disorder or knows someone who is a caregiver or afflicted.

Following the efforts of Congress to create a national strategic plan to address the rapidly escalating AD crisis and to coordinate resources across federal agencies, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a joint resolution enacted into law to direct the Lt. Governor’s Long Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC) to be the vehicle to develop a state plan to address this growing public health crisis in the Ocean State. Ultimately, for over a year former Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts along with LTCCC members, former Division of Elderly Affairs Director Catherine Taylor, the state Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, universities and health care organizations with the public input gleaned from 8 listening events hammered out the 122 page battle plan with over 30 pages of recommendations.

In 2016, Lt. Governor Daniel J. McKee has picked up the ball and convened a meeting of the Executive Board on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, consisting of researchers, advocates, clinicians and caregivers, to begin efforts to implement recommendations from the State’s Alzheimer’s Plan. The group will determine which recommendations are outdated.

With a rising population of Rhode Islander’s with AD, state policy makers must act swiftly and lose no more time in addressing this terrible disease and public health issue.

Report: Alzheimer’s Poses Greater Risk for Older Women than Men

Published in Pawtucket Times, May 11, 2014

According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Alzheimer’s disease Facts and Figures report released last Month, a woman’s estimated lifetime risk of developing Alzheimer’s at age 65 is 1 in 6, compared with nearly 1 in 11 for a man. As real a concern as breast cancer is to women’s health, women age 60 and over are about twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s over the rest of their lives as they are to develop breast cancer, says the this years’ report.

The Facts and Figures report, an official report of the Alzheimer’s Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research, is a comprehensive compilation of national statistics and information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The 75 page report conveys the impact of Alzheimer’s on individuals, families, government and the nation’s health care system. Since its 2007 inaugural release, the detailed report has become the most cited source covering the broad spectrum of Alzheimer’s issues.

“Through our role in the development of The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s in 2010, in conjunction with Maria Shriver, we know that women are the epicenter of Alzheimer’s disease, representing majority of both people with the disease and Alzheimer’s caregivers. The recently released Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures examines the impact of this unbalanced burden,” said Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Well-deserved investments in breast cancer and other leading causes of death such as heart disease, stroke and HIV/AIDS have resulted in substantial decreases in death. Geiger calls for comparable investments in research to reach the same levels of successfully preventing and treating Alzheimer’s as the other leading causes of death.

Adding to women’s Alzheimer’s burden, there are 2.5 times as many women as men providing intensive “on- duty” care 24 hours for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease, says the report, also noting that among caregivers who feel isolated, women are much more likely than men to link isolation with feeling depressed (17 percent of women verse. 2 percent of men).

Also noted in the 2014 Alzheimer’s’ Facts and Figures report released on March 19, 2014, the strain of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is also felt in the nation’s workplace, too. Among caregivers who have been employed while they were also care giving, 20 percent of women verse. 3 percent of men went from working full-time to working part-time while acting as a caregiver. The report also noted that 18 percent of women versus. 11 percent of men took a leave of absence while 11 percent of women verses 5 percent of men gave up work entirely. Finally, 10 percent of women verse 5 percent of men lost job benefits.

Far Reaching Fiscal Human Impact of Alzheimer’s

Meanwhile the Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report noted that there are more than 5 million Americans living with this devastating disorder, including 3.2 million women and 200,000 people under the age of 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease (see my May 9, 2013 Commentary). However, Alzheimer’s has far-reaching effects by impacting entire families. Also, it was reported that there are currently 15.5 million caregivers providing 17.7 billion hours of unpaid care throughout the nation, often severely impacting their own health. The physical and emotional impact of dementia care giving resulted in an estimated $9.3 billion in increased healthcare costs for Alzheimer’s caregivers in 2013.

The total national cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is projected to reach $214 billion this year, says the 2014 Facts and Figures report, not including unpaid care giving by family and friends valued at more than $220 billion. In 2014, the cost to Medicare and Medicaid of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will reach a combined $150 billion with Medicare spending nearly $1 in every $5 on people with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

The Facts and Figures report predicts the cost numbers to soar as the baby boomers continue to enter the age of greatest risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Unless something is done to change the course of the devastating disorder, there could be as many as 16 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s in 2050, at a cost of $1.2 trillion (in current dollars) to the nation. This dramatic rise includes a 500 percent increase in combined Medicare and Medicaid spending and a 400 percent increase in out-of-pocket spending.

The country’s first-ever National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s disease has a goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Ensuring strong implementation of the National Alzheimer’s Plan, including adequately funding Alzheimer’s research, is the best way to avoid these staggering human and financial tolls.

Lack of Understanding of the Alzheimer’s’ Disease

“Despite being the nation’s biggest health threat, Alzheimer’s disease is still largely misunderstood. Everyone with a brain — male or female, family history or not — is at risk for Alzheimer’s,” said Geiger. “Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and America is aging. As a nation, we must band together to protect our greatest asset, our brains.”

In 2010, the Alzheimer’s Association in partnership with Maria Shriver and The Shriver Report conducted a groundbreaking poll with the goal of exploring the compelling connection between Alzheimer’s disease and women. Data from that poll were published in The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s, which also included essays and reflections that gave personal perspectives to the poll’s numbers. For the first time, that report revealed not only the striking impact of the disease on individual lives, but also its especially strong effects on women — women living with the disease, as well as women who are caregivers, relatives, friends and loved ones of those directly affected.

Realizing the impact Alzheimer’s has on women — and the impact women can have when they work together — the Alzheimer’s Association is launching a national initiative this spring highlighting the power of women in the fight against this disease. To join the movement, visit http://www.alz.org/mybrain.

Maureen Maigret, policy consultant for the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island and Coordinator of the Rhode Island Older Woman’s Policy Group, concurs with the findings of the Alzheimer’s disease Facts and Figures report. She calls for the education of elected officials on the facts about Alzheimer’s disease and its greater prevalence among women. “It is clearly a tragedy for the women effected with the disease, and can be devastating for their caregivers, mostly daughters, trying to keep them at home,” she says.

Maigret says that Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias at the state level have tremendous implications for this state’s budget. “Data show that in Rhode Island, about three-quarters of persons in nursing homes paid for by Medicaid are older women. An overwhelming number of them have some cognitive decline or dementia, she notes.

“We must do more to ensure that quality long-term care is available for persons with dementia and that robust caregiver support services are in place for the many families dealing with parents, spouses and other loved ones suffering from this disease,” says Maigret, stressing that government funding on research must also be greatly increased in the hopes of finding a cure or ways to prevent its onset.

Director Catherine Taylor, of the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs, believes that the Alzheimer’s’ Association’s released 2014 Facts and Figures report, about a woman’s lifetime risk of developing the devastating cognitive disorder verses breast cancer “really help us understand, in stark terms, what a public health crisis Alzheimer’s disease is, especially for women.”

Taylor notes that the Ocean State is in the implementation phase of its State Plan on Alzheimer’s disease and Related Dementias (see my November 13, 2013 commentary), where state officials are working to improve information, care and supports for every family that confronts Alzheimer’s disease. “The work will continue until there’s a cure,” she says.

“It’s important to note that new research findings also indicates that up to half of the cases of Alzheimer’s disease may be linked to risk factors “within our control,” states Taylor, adding that reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease may be a simple as eating a healthy diet, staying active, learning new skills, and maintaining maintain strong connections with family, friends and community.

For those concerned about their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, join Prevent AD, Rhode Island’s Alzheimer’s disease Prevention Registry. Prevent AD volunteers will learn about prevention studies for which they may be qualified to participate in, as well as the latest news on brain health. For more information, call (401) 444-0789.

The full text of the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Facts and Figures can be viewed at http://www.alz.org/downloads/facts_figures_2014.pdf. The full report also appeared in the March 2014 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia: the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association (Volume 10, Issue 2).

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

National Report Grapples with Impending Alzheimer’s Epidemic

Published in the Pawtucket Times, July 25, 2013
 
            This 56 page report must not sit on a bureaucrat’s dusty shelf.          
 
            With the graying of the nation’s population and a skyrocketing incident rate of persons afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention release a report last week to address a major public health issue, an impending Alzheimer’s disease epidemic on the horizon.  
 
            Researchers say that in 2013, an estimated 5 million Americans age 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. Unless more effective ways are identified and implemented to prevent or treat this devastating cognitive disorder the prevalence may triple, skyrocketing to almost 14 million people.  Simply put, Alzheimer’s disease is now the 6th leading cause of death and 5th among those 65 to 85 years of age.
 

A Call to Arms

 
            On July 15, 2013, CDC, the federal agency charged with protecting public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability, and the Alzheimer’s Association, the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research, unveiled The Healthy Brain Initiative: The Public Health Road Map for State and National Partnerships, 2013-2018 at the 2013 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Boston.
 
           The released report calls for public health officials to quickly act to stem the growing Alzheimer’s crisis and is a follow-up to the 2007 The Healthy Brain Initiative: a National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health.
 
            “The public health community is now paying greater attention to the Alzheimer’s epidemic that millions of families have been facing for decades and that is poised to drastically increase,” said Robert Egged, Vice President of Public Policy at the Alzheimer’s Association. “On the heels of the 2012 release of the country’s first-ever National Alzheimer’s Plan, the Alzheimer’s Association and CDC have partnered again to create a tool for public health officials to improve the quality of life for those families and advance cognitive health as a integral component of public health,” says Egged.
 
            Released five years ago, the original Road Map addressed cognitive health and functioning from a public health perspective and provided a framework for the public health community to engage cognitive health, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. More than 280 experts in the field contributed to this new Road Map report that outlines specific actions steps that state and local public health officials can take to promote cognitive functioning, address cognitive impairment for individuals living in the community and help meet the needs of caregivers.
 
            While federal agencies play a critical role in leading and funding efforts to address Alzheimer’s disease, state and local health departments organize and provide public health services at the community level.
 
            “The goal of the Healthy Brain Initiative is to enhance understanding of the public health burden of cognitive impairment, help build evidence-based communications and programs, and translate that foundation into effective public health practices in states and communities. This Road Map provides guidance to states, communities, and national partners to plan for and respond to this major public health issue,” said Lynda Anderson, PhD, Director of the Healthy Aging Program at CDC.
 
            A former Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Administration on Aging, Bill Benson, now a managing partner of Silver Spring, Maryland-based, Health Benefits ABC, notes that the cost of providing care to people with Alzheimer’s disease will have a drastic impact on the nation’s economy due to the cost of lost productivity, and the care costs for those no longer able to care from themselves. “This does not include the profound personal impact and consequences to those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and to their loved ones,” he says.
 
            “The scope, cost and the extraordinary burden both to individuals and to society make it a true health crisis,” says Benson, stressing that public health officials need to know more about the disease and those who have it, better ways to diagnosis it.  There must also be a better understanding of the economic impact and programs and services that are proven to ease the burden of those who suffer from it and their caregivers, he adds. 
 

Action Steps for Local Communities to Follow

 
            The Road Map report includes more than 30 action steps that the public health community can take at the federal, state and local levels over the next five years to address cognitive health and cognitive impairment from a public health perspective. The actions are intended as a guide for what state and local public health officials could do – on their own or with other national, state and local partners. Agencies are encouraged to select those actions that best fit state and local needs and customize them to match priorities, capabilities and resources.
 
            As to specifics, the Road Map report calls for improved monitoring and evaluation of persons with dementia including Alzheimer’s disease and younger onset as they relate to employment and employers, and defining the needs of these individuals and their caregivers.  Also, increased support should be given to state and local needs assessments to identify racial/ethnic; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender; socioeconomic; and geographic disparities related to cognitive health and impairment.
 
            Public health officials must educate and empower the nation in confronting the epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease by promoting advance care planning and financial planning to care partners, families, and individuals with dementia in the early stages before function declines.  They can also identify and promote culturally appropriate strategies designed to increase public awareness about dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, to reduce conflicting messages, decrease stigma, and promote early diagnosis.
 
            The Road Map report urges that sound public health policies be developed and partnerships created to collaborate in the development, implementation, and maintenance of state Alzheimer’s disease plans. It also recommends that state and local government integrate cognitive health and impairment into state and local government plans (e.g. aging, coordinated chronic disease, preparedness, falls, and transportation plans).
 
            Finally, the Road Map report also recommends that strategies be developed to help ensure that state public health departments have expertise in cognitive health and impairment related to research and best practices.  Support must also be provided to continuing education efforts that improve healthcare providers’ ability to recognize early signs of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and to offer counseling to individuals and their care partners.
 

A Local View

            Maureen Maigret, policy consultant for the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI coordinator of the Rhode Island Older Women’s Policy Group, agrees with the assessment of theRoad Map report, especially with the Ocean State having the “highest percent of persons age 85 and over in the 2010 Census and this is the population that is growing fast and most likely to have dementia.”
 
            Maigret notes the economic impact will have significant impact across our economy for the state budget and for individual families. “It is imperative for our public officials to promote programs to identify those with early cognitive problems and implement policies to strengthen community and caregiver supports that will help persons to safely remain in home and community settings as long as possible, she says.
 
            The Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation this year that requires caregiver assessments in the state Medicaid long term care system.  “It’s a good first step in helping caregivers. But we must do so much more to inform the public about available resources, to adequately fund assistance programs such as RIde, Meals on Wheels and respite services and to promote cognitive screening as part of annual wellness visits funded by Medicare,” she says. 
 
            “Having a clear active mind at any age is important but as we get older it can mean the difference between dependence and independent living,” says Executive Director, Donna McGowan, of the Alzheimer’s Association-Rhode Island Chapter. “We are excited that the CDC has partnered again with the Alzheimer’s Association to create a tool for public health officials to improve the quality of life for those families afflicted by the disease,” she says.
 
            For more information on The Healthy Brain Initiative: The Public Health Road Map for State and National Partnerships, 2013-2018, visit alz.org/publichealth. For more information on Alzheimer’s disease and the Alzheimer’s Association, call 1-800-272-3900 or visit alz.org®.
 
            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

 

 

The Best Of…Keeping Tabs on Your Wandering Parent

           Published August 20, 2008, All Pawtucket All The Time          

           With the graying of Rhode Island’s population, a growing number of aging baby boomers are now taking care of their elderly parents who reside in their homes.  Adult children are often juggling professional careers and family responsibilities while spending countless of hours each week making sure their elderly parents needs are taken care of such as getting them to doctor’s appointments, taking them grocery shopping, assisting in house hold chores, or bringing them to family events.

            In recent months this writer discovered several close friends are dealing with parents facing these very issues – perhaps compounded with early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s.  Often times the grown children suffer in silence – balancing the daily burdens of their own lives – while steadfastly tending to their parents care and needs, a very time consuming task especially if the older parent is frail or becomes confused and wandering.                                                                                                                                                                                

 Wandering a Common Occurrence

            This “care giving” life-stage experience is not uncommon, especially with approximately 25,000 Rhode Islanders who are afflicted with Alzheimer’s.  According to Elizabeth Morancy, President of the Alzheimer’s Association, Rhode Island Chapter, about 70% of people with dementia reside at home in the community    She estimates that six out of 10 people with Alzheimer’s will “wander” to some degree.

            Morancy notes that “wandering” occurs when a person with dementia becomes missing – where an individual becomes lost after leaving their home.  The restless individual may actually leave having a purpose or goal in mind, maybe he or she might search for an item that was lost, look for a child, or try to fulfill a former job responsibility.

            “Even situations that seem harmless to us can become dangerous, even fatal to the Alzheimer’s person,” Morancy notes.  Because a confused person does not panic not realizing their dangerous predicament of walking onto a highway or into woods, a very dangerous even a very life threatening, situation occurs, she says.

The ABCs of Reducing Wandering

            According to Morancy, wandering can be reduced by following a few tips. Movement and exercise can reduce behavior, agitation and restlessness (causes for this negative behavior).  Make sure that all basic needs, such as toileting, nutrition and thirst, are met.  Involve the person with dementia in performing daily activities like folding laundry or making dinner.  Color-matching cloth over door knobs can effectively camouflage the hardware. A black rectangle on the floor placed inside the door way can become a visual barrier, keeping the wanderer inside.  By placing a mirror near a doorway, a reflection of the person’s face will often keep the individual from opening the door and leaving the house.   

             Even simple actions like rigging an alarm by hanging tin cans from a door with string or using door locks the confused person can not operate work effectively, too, Morancy says.

             Morancy adds that one of the most effective ways of reducing wandering is to register the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia in Alzheimer’s Association’s MedicAlert + Safe Return Program.  It operates through local police departments and other emergency responder agencies working with Alzheimer’s Association chapters across the country.  The government-funded initiative has a national information and photo database.  It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a toll free crisis line. .        

            Once registered, when a person with dementia wanders or becomes lost, a phone call immediately activates a community support network that works together to reunite the lost person with their caregivers.  Once the wandering individual is found, an identification product on the wanderer provides law officials with information to contact the caregiver.  The nearest Alzheimer’s Association office provides support during the rescue efforts.  Medical information is immediately available if needed.

             MedicAlert + Safe Return Program needs to be tweaked, say Morancy.  “The initiative is not yet pro-active. Although the registration helps identify the person who wears an identity bracelets or necklace or carries wallet identity card (noting an 800 toll free number) because the identity information enables caregivers to ultimately be contacted, this is just after the fact,” she says. “There is no universal system that will track down persons while they are lost.

             However, in other states, Project Lifesaver, administered by the local sheriff departments, utilizes a tracking mechanism.  However, its high cost decreases its use throughout the nation. .

             Initiatives like MedicAlert + Safe Return and Project Lifesaver have been instrumental in returning wanders to the safe home environments.  These programs are crucial to aging baby boomers who work hard to successfully keep their confused parent at home rather than to institutionalize them. The incidence of physical harm and death increases if a person is not found within a 24 hour period.

             Care giving can be a stressful chore.  Programs like MedicAlert + Safe Return can make it just a little easier.  For more information about this Program, call 800 272-3900.

             Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, medical and health care issues. The article was published in the August 20, 2008 issue of All Pawtucket All the Time.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Deciphering the Effectiveness of Alzheimer’s Research Findings

           Published July 6, 2012, Pawtucket Times 

          Over a decade my mother was afflicted with the devastating medical disorder, Alzheimer’s Disease. Over the years with this affliction her physician would keep our family updated on the effectiveness of pharmaceutical research on medications that could put the breaks on this devastating disorder, one that would ultimately erase her short and long-term memory, making her husband of sixty years, and adult children virtual strangers to her.

            My family like hundreds of thousands of baby boomers and seniors sought out information from local newspapers, senior publications, national magazines, like Time or Newsweek, to unravel the medical mysteries of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Occasionally, I, like many shoppers at the local grocery store would sneak a peek, reading the National Enquirer while waiting in line looking for a little bit more information on new effective treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Alzheimer’s Disease

            Oftentimes it becomes very confusing for caregivers to determine which profiled treatments are promising ones and which ones are not, due to the diversity of opinions in the research community.  Some articles might detail the effectiveness of taking Vitamin E; while others stress the effectiveness of Gingko, noting how it just might improve your memory.  Others might describe studies that indicate that estrogen replacement therapy is not really an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease for some women.  Or some might even issue a warning to the reader to “not eat off of aluminum plates” because some research findings seem to indicate that an accumulation of heavy metals, such as aluminum, in the brain might cause the devastating disorder of Alzheimer’s.

            Years ago I provided the following helpful tips to readers of my column that might just unravel the mysteries of reported research findings in Alzheimer’s research that are reported by the nation’s media.  These tips are just as true eleven years later.

            Always beware of glitzy headlines. Time limitations keep people from reading every word in articles that appear in their daily, weekly or monthly newspapers.  As a result, may readers just choose to quickly scan the headlines for their information.  Don’t judge an article by its cute headline.  The content of an article is much more balanced than the headline that is composed of catchy words, crafted to draw the reader in.

            Look for authoritative commentary.  You can consider an article to be more credible when it provides multiple quotes on the indications of an Alzheimer’s treatment.  Consider the report to have done a good job if there is an authoritative expert commentary of the significance of the study.  Two likely sources might come from staffers employed by either the National Alzheimer’s Association or the National Institute of health, a major federal government agency that fund’s Alzheimer’s research studies.  One might consider the National Alzheimer’s Association point of view to be less biased and a more reliable opinion than those researchers who have ties to a pharmaceutical company that issued the press release.

            Determine if there are disputes in research findings.  Keep in mind that even if a research study is reported there might be those persons who believe that the study is not well designed or has major research flaws.   On the other hand, the study might just be accepted by the scientific community as a solid study.  However, there might still be serious disagreements about how to interpret the results or how to classify it.  Some researchers might consider it a major study while others would not.  A well-researched article will include the quotes of those who oppose the study.

Seeking out Reliable Expert Sources

            Are you still confused by how to cull articles for tips to learn about safe and effective treatments for Alzheimer’s?  Where do we go from here?  Caregivers should view any article written about new Alzheimer’s treatments as informational in nature.  The article can open the door to the nation’s research community and it now becomes your responsibility to do your homework by seeking out more details about what the research findings indicate.

            If the article describes the results of an actual published research study, obtain the scientific journal with the published study at your local library or search for it on the Internet.   When found carefully read it.  If the findings are reported from a presentation at a conference attempt to track down the researchers for more information.  Finally cruise the Internet and check out the official Websites of the Alzheimer’s Association or the National Institute on Aging, to determine if you can locate more information about a reported new treatment.

            Finally, don’t hesitate to call Donna McGowan, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association – Rhode Island Chapter at 401 421-0008 or email, Donna.McGowan@alz.org, to solicit the organization’s comments on research findings reported by the media. Remember Federal agencies, along with national and state Alzheimer’s organizations monitor research studies and their implications for treatment.

              Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  His Commentaries are published in two Rhode Island daily’s The Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call.