Seeing a huge rise in Alzheimer’s Disease over the last two years, federal and state officials are gearing up to strategize a battle to fight the impending epidemic.
According to the Rhode Island Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, 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 well triple, skyrocketing to almost 16 million people.
Furthermore, national health care costs are spiraling out of control, says the nonprofit group’s Facts Sheet. By 2050, it’s estimated that the total cost of care nation-wide for persons with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to reach more than $1 trillion dollars (in today’s dollars), up from $172 billion in 2010.
Meanwhile, with 24,000 Rhode Islanders afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, every Rhode Islander is personally touched, either caring for a family member with the cognitive disorder or knowing someone who is a caregiver or patient.
In February 2012, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released its draft National Plan, detailing goals to prevent or treat the devastating disease by 2025. Almost six months later, in May 2012, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a joint resolution (The same month that the final National Plan was released.), signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee, directing the state’s Long Term Care Coordinating Council to lead an effort to create a state-wide strategy to react to Rhode Island’s growing Alzheimer’s population. Almost one year later, a 122 page document, the Rhode Island State Plan for Alzheimer’s Disease Disorders, was released to address the growing incidence in the Ocean State.
In July 2013, 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 released a 56 page report that called for public health officials to quickly act to stem the growing Alzheimer’s crisis. .
Battle Plan Against Alzheimer’s Disease
The State’s Plan to battle Alzheimer’s Disease is the culmination of a yearlong effort co-chaired by Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts and Division of Elderly Affairs Director Catherine Taylor, in partnership with the state chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.
Much of the research and writing was conducted by six subgroups (Caregivers, Access, Legal, Workforce, Long-Term Care, and Care Delivery & Research) formed to identify and tackle the many challenges that Alzheimer’s disease poses to individuals, their families and to the health care delivery system. .
At their meetings, the subgroups drew upon the expertise of staff at the Geriatric Education Center at the University of Rhode Island, the Brown University Center for Gerontology and Health Care Research, the Brown Brain Bank, and the Norman Price Neurosciences Institute and the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry
Public input was crucial in the development of the State Plan. Eight listening sessions were held across the Ocean State, two of them held with Spanish translators, at public libraries and local YMCAs, to get the opinions of those with the cognitive disorder, caregivers, and health care professionals. The probate judges association, law enforcement and other groups with unique perspectives on Alzheimer’s Disease were invited to listening sessions, too. Finally, the draft plan was made available for a ten-day public comment as part of the extensive outreach process.
The narrative in each section, nicely pulled together by Lindsay McAllister, the Lt. Governor’s Director of Health Policy, reflected many of the concerns and challenges identified by many presentations and discussions in each of the subgroup meetings over several months. The State Plan details 30 pages of recommendations outlining solutions and specific steps to be taken for preventing and caring for persons with Alzheimer’s Disease for six identified areas.
A Sampling of Recommendations
The plan encourages the development of social media networks as resources for caregivers, also calling on utilizing existing caregiver newsletters to detail more information about the Ocean State’s specific programs and services. It also calls for better training and education opportunities (for young children) to help them understand the devastating disorder and the creation of a two-week certification program, offered by local colleges and universities with input from the state’s Alzheimer’s Association.
In addition, the plan recommends the timely dissemination of research findings and best practices in nursing facilities, dementia care units, and home care to providers and families. Meanwhile, recommendations note the need to standardize dementia training and educational programs as well as the certification of facilities that offer dementia-specific care so that individuals and families impacted by Alzheimer’s Disease can rely upon high quality “dementia capable” care that they can find more easily.
The plan pushes for all Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to receive information about referral resources for employees requiring more intensive or long-term mental health services. EAP’s might also provide educational and informational resources on caregiver support for families dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.
Another key recommendation is the development of an internet resource referred to as the Rhode Island Alzheimer’s Disease (RIAD) Web Site. The site would enable better coordination among researchers and clinicians and assist them in recruiting participants for clinical trials and research studies. It would also provide consistent centralized support to individuals living with Alzheimer’s and their families by making practical care giving information readily and easily available.
“AARP has a long history of supporting Alzheimer’s patients and their families,” said AARP Rhode Island Advocacy Director Deanna Casey. “We applaud the effort in Rhode Island and Lt. Gov. Roberts’ efforts on behalf of those who suffer from the disease,” she says.
Casey says “far too many of our nonprofit’s 130,000 Rhode Island members are painfully familiar with Alzheimer’s, and the work of the many stakeholders in this effort is further indication of the great need to recognize our collective responsibility to help families through what is a most challenging journey.”
“Rhode Island has a tremendous opportunity to be a national leader in response to this disease,” she believes.
Briefing by Key Supporters
Two days ago, the full Alzheimer’s Work group kicked off the implementation phase of the Rhode Island State Plan on Alzheimer’s Disease & Related Disorders, discussing how to move forward with the goal of getting the recommendations up and running.
In Room 116 at the State House, Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts and Director Catherine Taylor of the Division of Elderly Affairs were clearly pleased to see their year-long initiative moving into its implementation phase to assist the State to handle a growing number of persons with Alzheimer’s Disease.
On the heels of a nationally released plan to address the Alzheimer’s epidemic, Taylor tells me that it was “great timing” for the Rhode Island General Assembly to enact a joint resolution to create a state plan to “respond to Rhode Island’s specific needs and gaps of service.” She credits the Rhode Island Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association with the getting the ball rolling on this major health care policy initiative.
According to Lt. Governor Roberts, public sessions where care givers and people with Alzheimer’s Disease told their personal stories allowed the Subgroups to understand the personal impact of the devastating disease on both the afflicted and caregivers. For instance, the listening sessions made it very clear that the specific care needs of middle age adults with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease is quite different from those who are decades older, she said. Taylor agreed, citing adult day care eligibility requirements which keep those under age 60 from participating in this program, one that provides respite care to caregivers.
Lt. Governor Roberts states “younger people can not relate to programs that are developed for older people.” The patient must become the center of treatment rather than the treatment geared to age, she says.
Both Lt. Governor Roberts and Taylor do not want to see the State Plan sit on a dusty shelf, noting that it now becomes important to implement the written plan’s recommendations. “Let’s get the ball rolling now,” says Taylor.
While many of the State Plan’s recommendations may take time to implement, some are easy to implement like a Spanish language support group, says the Lt. Governor. Taylor states that RI has already requested a modification to the Medicaid waiver to expand Adult Day Health Center eligibility to individuals younger than 60 who have a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
Senior Police and Fire Advocates need to be trained in every Rhode Island community about Alzheimer’s Disease and resources available for caregivers, states Taylor. “These individuals know those who need programs and services in the community,” she notes, adding that an information conference is scheduled this week to train these individuals.
Lt. Governor Roberts believes that the State plan is a “living document” and it will be around as long as there is one person with Alzheimer’s Disease.”
To review the State plan go to http://www.ltgov.state.ri.us/alz/State%20Plan%20for%20ADRD%202013.pdf.
Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.