Printed on: October 03, 2012

Idaho slow to ready for Alzheimer's epidemic

By Katy Moeller
Idaho Statesman

California has a plan. So do Oregon and Utah.

Those states are among 35 that have adopted or are developing plans to provide better information and support to the growing number of families struggling to care for loved ones afflicted by Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

The drive to improve coordination of care has been fueled, in part, by national statistics showing the number of people with the disease could triple by 2050.

Today, about 5.4 million people are living with Alzheimer's, including an estimated 26,000 in Idaho.

The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death among adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alzheimer's Association. The annual cost of caring for those with dementia already is $200 billion.

Idaho appears on track to develop an Alzheimer's plan, thanks to a small group of advocates that includes gerontologists, researchers and administrators 0- known as the Idaho Alzheimer's Planning Group.

The group recently concluded a needs assessment and is developing a state plan.

Many Idaho families dealing with the disease want to "manage on their own" as long as possible but sometimes need help, according to the study.

The study was compiled and written by Sarah Toevs, director of Boise State University's Center for the Study of Aging.

"Caregivers and family members are not looking for a handout but rather for a supportive hand as they navigate the often unpredictable landscape of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias," the report said.

The types of support needed are diverse, Toevs said, ranging from basic caregiving -- how to bathe someone or get him or her to eat -- to assistance with Medicare/Medicaid.

"Building a connected and integrated network of supports would go a long way in the effort to help caregivers," she said.

Nearly 450 people were interviewed or surveyed in the yearlong assessment; they included nursing facility administrators, health care and social service providers and caregivers.

National studies show 80 percent of the care provided to those with Alzheimer's is delivered by family members.

The Idaho assessment study found that 80 percent of family caregivers surveyed were women, and the average age of those surveyed was 59.

Fifty-five percent of Idaho caregivers surveyed said they devoted at least 40 hours per week to providing home-based care. It's exhausting and challenging work.

"I was running focus groups and we had to pass the tissue box -- that's how difficult this disease is for caregivers," volunteer Mike Berlin said.