Georgia develops ‘accountability’ dementia plan

Alyssa Stafford

About Alyssa Stafford

Alyssa Stafford (@alyssastafford) is a graduate student at The University of Georgia, studying health media and communication. She is also a freelance writer and communications strategist.

Photo by John via Flickr.

Photo by John via Flickr.

Georgia has a new task force targeting Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The recently published Georgia Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias State Plan lays out a strategy for addressing the needs of patients in terms of care and prevention, the impact on caregivers, and the costs associated with the disease.

The task force is led by James Bulot, Ph.D., director of Georgia’s Division of Aging Services. According to Bulot, 40 states have dementia plans at various stages. The Georgia plan assesses the risk for citizens in the state and takes inventory of services available to Georgians. It also outlines the importance of finding gaps in resources available on a state level.

Bulot believes the Georgia plan will be different because he’ll hold the task force accountable for progress. Unlike other plans which may be updated every five or 10 years, the Georgia plan will be continually modified to reflect changing scientific knowledge and statistics.

“You’ve got to visit it often,” Bulot said. “We’ll be moving systematically through the plan, scratching things off the list and moving on.”

Public response so far has been positive.

“We’re hearing, ‘it’s about time,’” Bulot said.

Moira Keller, a clinical social worker at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta specializing in geriatric care, has seen an increase in cases of dementia for years. For those over the age of 65, Alzheimer’s is the fifth leading cause of death.

Of the Georgia dementia plan, Keller said, “I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s just absolutely necessary because dementia is an epidemic.”

One gap Keller identified was the need for more conversation surrounding Alzheimer’s. Bulot hopes that the statewide plan in Georgia will do just that: raise attention, awareness, and start conversations, not only among the public, but within government agencies.

The plan takes into account resources provided by state agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations. It also details the needs of patients, families, and caregivers, giving agencies a roadmap to how they focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia within their organization.

“Many departments are working together, and you can see an immediate improvement,” Bulot said. “When you get the right individuals at the table, talking about ideas, it will benefit the population as a whole.”

Focus on caregivers

Almost all of Keller’s clients have a form of dementia. She assesses whether they are able to function alone, managing daily activities like eating, getting dressed and paying bills, despite cognitive impairments of the disease. When they can’t, that’s when caregivers come in.

“Families really twist themselves inside out. They retire, quit their jobs, and make so many sacrifices in order to be there for loved ones. That comes at great financial hardship for those families,” Keller said.

For this reason, a major emphasis of the state plan is the support of unpaid caregivers, who provide 90 percent of long term care, according to the CDC and this report from AARP.

This amounts to 17.7 billion hours of care per year, without any compensation. Keller said, “They just want more options for getting a break, because it’s hard work.”

One of the goals of the plan is to “create funding mechanisms to support family caregivers to keep their family member with dementia at home longer.” Support includes providing reimbursement for personal care services, specialized medical supplies, and respite.

The issue of funding will be handled through resource sharing among agencies and maximizing financial resources already available. The task force will also seek out new funding opportunities. According to Bulot, $3 million in additional funding has already been acquired for their initiatives.

The ultimate goal, Bulot said, is to “serve more people, with more efficiency, and achieve better outcomes for Alzheimer’s patients and their families.”

One such efficiency is using volunteer members of the task force. Bulot emphasized that Georgia has no budget for completing dementia initiatives. The plan relies on the work of experts around the state who are passionate about improving the lives of patients and families.

“And it’s impossible to find any family in Georgia or the U.S., or the world, who’s not affected by dementia,” Keller said. “One of the really good things is that [the plan] is going to promote more public conversations about dementia.”

Reporters covering aging and long-term services and supportscan compare their state’s plan to others – both overall and by specific category. Your state’s department of aging should be able to tell you how frequently the plan is assessed and revised, what programs are in place, what’s working, what’s not, and which cities or counties are best prepared for the age wave.

If your state is does not have a plan, why not? What are they doing to get ready?

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