Alzheimer’s Disease affects roughly 1 percent of 65-year-olds and 3 percent of 70-year-olds. By the time a person reaches 85 years old, there is about a 50-percent chance he will have Alzheimer’s.
Those are troubling statistics for New Hampshire’s aging population.
By 2030, more than a quarter of the population will be 60 or older. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 22,000 people in New Hampshire have Alzheimer’s, a disease that causes damage to the brain that results in memory loss, decreased learning capabilities, mood and behavioral changes and eventually death. If no cures or treatment are developed, that number is expected to triple to about 66,000 by 2050.
Preparing for more patients
“There is a mushrooming of people who are older and that’s the baby boomer generation,” Fitzgerald-Campbell said. “If we don’t find effective treatment the numbers could triple. That’s a big impact on society, the health care institution, the nation’s finances.”
In terms of dollars alone, in 2014 caring for people with Alzheimer’s is estimated to cost $214 billion nationally, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. By 2050, the figure is estimated to jump to $1.2 trillion.
New Hampshire lawmakers have begun to confront the issue by establishing ways to increase awareness and support.
In March, House Bill 1572 established a permanent subcommittee of the Health and Human Services oversight committee relative to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. It is composed of doctors, nurses, representatives from Veterans Affairs, people with dementia, family members of people with dementia and members of the legislature.
“The nice part about it is it really takes a pretty comprehensive look at where we need to go,” said Heather Carroll, New Hampshire’s regional manager for the Alzheimer’s Association. “That’s going to help us zero in and focus on where the need is … if it needs to be legislated, we’ll go that way.”
The next piece of legislation will probably have to do with universal guardianship — proposing a law that would allow guardians in New Hampshire to maintain their guardianship status should their loved one be moved out of state, Carroll said.
“Often times what we hear is the sister we haven’t heard from in two years came and took mom out of the nursing home and took her to Florida. What can we do?” she said. “It’s a little scary.”
House Bill 1572 also requires the Police Standards and Training Council to provide training to the law enforcement community on Alzheimer’s Disease. Advocates say there are many instances of police officers, EMTs and other emergency responders asking how to handle people with dementia wandering off. As of 2015 police will be required to take a two-hour training session dedicated solely to dementia.
Continuing to increase public awareness is a major focus amongst Alzheimer’s support organizations.
“I’ve been working here for nine years. At the time I started working her, you’d see a couple stories about it. Now it’s every day,” Fitzgerald-Campbell said. “Public awareness ... means more people are getting diagnosed, and it’s more likely they will have a slightly improved experience with the disease.”
Risk to those who live alone
Another piece of the puzzle that may need to be addressed: research shows New Hampshire has more instances of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who are living alone than any other state.
“The general landscape of New Hampshire is we have a lot of rural areas where people are a little bit more independant, and have always been independent, so I think that just naturally happens,” Carroll said. “I also think a lot of the true snowbirders at one point in time are not traveling to Florida anymore.”
In these cases, elderly people may not be diagnosed until there is an extreme situation, like dehydration or a fall. Normally, the Alzheimer’s Association receives a spike of concerned calls during the holidays, too, because people are seeing their loved ones for the first time in perhaps years.
“All of a sudden it’s like holy moly, mom is hoarding food, or only living on the first floor of her home, which isn’t working, or mom’s memory isn’t what it used to be,” Carroll said.
As seen in the October 16, 2014 issue of the Hippo.