New Report Says Alzheimer’s Disease Is Now Major Public Health Issue

Published in the Woonsocket Call on March 25, 2018

For the second consecutive year, total payments to care for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other dementias will surpass $277 billion, which includes an increase of nearly $20 billion from last year, according to data reported in the Alzheimer’s Association 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report recently released last Tuesday.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the annual report, first released in 2007, is a compilation of state and national specific statistics and information detailing the impact of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias on individuals, families, state and federal government and the nation’s health care system.

“This year’s report illuminates the growing cost and impact of Alzheimer’s on the nation’s health care system, and also points to the growing financial, physical and emotional toll on families facing this disease,” said Keith Fargo, Ph.D., director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association, in a statement. “Soaring prevalence, rising mortality rates and lack of an effective treatment all lead to enormous costs to society. Alzheimer’s is a burden that’s only going to get worse. We must continue to attack Alzheimer’s through a multidimensional approach that advances research while also improving support for people with the disease and their caregivers,” he said.

Adds Fargo, “Discoveries in science mean fewer people are dying at an early age from heart disease, cancer and other diseases,” said Fargo. “Similar scientific breakthroughs are needed for Alzheimer’s disease, and will only be achieved by making it a national health care priority and increasing funding for research that can one day lead to early detection, better treatments and ultimately a cure.”

2018 Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures

New findings from the 88-page report on March 20, 2017 reveal the growing burden on 16.3 million caregivers providing 18.4 billion hours of care valued at over $ 232 billion to 5.7 million people with the devastating mental disorder. By 2050, the report projects that the number of persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will rise to nearly 14 million, with the total cost of care skyrocketing to more than $1.1 trillion.

Between 2000 and 2015 deaths from health disease nationwide decreased by 11 percent but deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 123 percent, says the new data in the report, noting that one out of three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. It even kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. In Rhode Island in 2015, the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s disease was 453, making the devastating brain disorder the 5th leading cause of death in the state.

In 2017, 53,000 Rhode Island caregivers provided an estimated 61 million hours of unpaid physical and emotional care and financial support – a contribution to the nation valued at $768 million dollars. The difficulties associated with providing this level of care are estimated to have resulted in $45 million in additional healthcare costs for Alzheimer’s and other dementia caregivers in 2017.

State Updates Battle Plan Against Alzheimer’s Disease

“The Alzheimer’s Association’s most recent report about Alzheimer’s Disease in Rhode Island illustrates the need to take swift action in updating our State Plan to ensure Rhode Island is prepared to provide the necessary resources to families, caregivers and patients who are struggling with the disease,” says Lt. Governor McKee,

McKee adds that the updated State Plan will be a blueprint for how Rhode Island will continue to address the growing Alzheimer’s crisis. “It will create the infrastructure necessary to build programs and services for the growing number of Rhode Islanders with the disease. The updated Plan will also outline steps the state must take to improve services for people with Alzheimer’s and their families. After the update is complete, my Alzheimer’s Executive Board will seek legislative and regulatory changes to carry out the recommendations of the Plan and ensure that it is more than just a document,” he says.

“One of the many types of caregivers benefiting from AARP’s caregiving advocacy in Rhode Island are family members who care for those with Alzheimer’s,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “They are among the army of 10 million wives, husbands, sons and daughters nationwide. The majority are women and according to researchers, especially when it comes to dementia and Alzheimer’s care. Approximately 40 percent of those caregivers say they have no other options or choices, and a third say they provide care 24/7.

“The latest report indicates what we already know,” Connell added. “This will continue to be rising challenge in Rhode Island as our population ages. The disease will place more stress on our Medicaid-funded nursing home capacity, which should make this a concern for taxpayers. There is a strong case for increasing research funding so that someday we may reverse the tide.

“Our Web site, http://www.aarp.org, provides abundant resources for these dedicated caregivers. AARP in states across the nation, including Rhode Island, have worked to pass legislation that provides paid respite for caregivers who have jobs as well as caregiving obligations. We have supported the Alzheimer’s Association here in Rhode Island for many years and, last year, a small team of AARP volunteers participated in the Alzheimer’s Walk. Joined by others, they are gearing up for this year’s walk.”

Increased Research Funding Needed Now

Donna McGowan, Alzheimer’s Association, RI Chapter Executive Director, says that the 2018 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report should send a very clear message that Alzheimer’s disease is an issue that policy makers cannot ignore. “This is an urgent public health crisis that must be addressed. Early detection and diagnosis of the disease leads to better planning, avoiding preventable hospitalizations, and over all a better quality of life for the patient and the caregiver,” says McGowan.

McGowan warns that the health care system is not ready to handle the increased cost and number of individuals expected to develop Alzheimer’s disease in the coming years. “With a vigorous National Plan in place to address the Alzheimer’s crisis, and annual budget guidance for Congress, it is essential that the federal government continue its commitment to the fight against Alzheimer’s by increasing funding for Alzheimer’s research,” adds McGowan.

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline sees the need for increased funding for direct services for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. He voted for H.R.1625, the omnibus spending bill that increases funding for the National Institute of Health’s Alzheimer’s research by $414 million. And two years ago, Cicilline worked to pass H.R.1559, “The HOPE for Alzheimer’s Act,” which President Obama signed into law to expand Medicare coverage for Alzheimer’s treatment.

If Cicilline succeeds to get the Republican-controlled Congress to have a vote on H.Res.160, his bill to reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging, it will allow House lawmakers to hear expert testimony and make new policy recommendations to improve the delivery of care to those afflicted with Alzheimer’s and to assist caregivers, too.

For details, go to http://www.alz.org/facts.

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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.