Provider Education, Public Outreach Top State Alzheimer's Plan
August 1, 2012 -- Monday morning, a coalition of advocates for those living with Alzheimer's disease announced a plan to manage the disease – whose numbers are expected to swell in the coming years.
“We are not trying to boil the ocean,” said Jon Bartholomew, public policy director of the Alzheimer's Association of Oregon, at a press conference where the plan was rolled out. Instead, the 40-page plan provides stakeholders with some general recommendations and goals – including the formation of a work group to hash out the specifics.
The plan's five goals include enhancing public awareness and engagement, optimizing care quality and efficiency, protecting individuals with dementia, improving access to quality care, as well as preventing, tracking and effectively treating dementia and its impact.
The plan's strategies for achieving those goals include the creation of a website with links to existing information and resources, ensuring Oregon has a dementia-capable licensed health care workforce, requiring training for court-appointed guardians on legal issues on dementia, and improving access to quality care.
“If I was going to be really bold, I would say every one of us will be affected by the disease,” said Jason Hess, the CEO of Elite Care, a Portland-based company providing residential care to older adults.
An important component of the plan calls for better tracking of the scope and effects of the disease, and improved access to care, Hess said. That will be particularly challenging and important in rural areas, where there’s already lack of access to geriatricians.
Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson (D-Gresham), a retired public health nurse, said the number of people living with Alzheimer's disease in Oregon is expected to swell from 76,000 to 110,000 by 2025, and
noted that 63 percent of adults in nursing facilities have some kind of cognitive impairment. She also said the cost of care for patients with dementia is much higher than for other patients: it's three times higher for Medicare patients and 19 times higher for Medicaid patients.
“This is a community-wide problem, and government can't deal with it alone,” she said. “While there are no cures, there are ways we can provide care more effectively.”
Speakers at the press conference included Bill Whitney, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease this winter. Post-diagnosis, Whitney has voluntarily surrendered his driver's license – after an accident in his garage – and has attended a support group for people with memory loss. He’s also been taking art classes and working with a therapist on word finding and memory building activities – and has been seeing a physical therapist to help him deal with his fear of falling, and getting back up safely when he does fall.
Whitney and his family are enrolled in the STAR-Caregivers program, a pilot project led by the University of Washington based in Jackson, Josephine and Multnomah counties.
That program provides social support for people living with Alzheimer's, as well as therapy and training for family members on how to deal with challenging behaviors related to dementia. It was inspired by a study at the NYU School of Medicine, which found that individual and family counseling combined with telephone support significantly improved the mental and physical health of people with Alzheimer's disease as well as their caregivers.
Offering therapy and community support early after diagnosis reduced healthcare costs, according to the study, partly because with adequate support, patients were institutionalized an average of 18 months later than they might have been otherwise.
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