District’s first-ever Alzheimer’s plan calls for more services for patients and caregivers

As the costs of unpaid Alzheimer’s disease care in the District inch up annually and with an expected boom in Alzheimer’s patients in coming decades, the D.C. Office on Aging has issued its first ever five-year plan to mitigate the effects of the disease and improve access to benefits.

A new report released Tuesday by the agency shows the city’s rate of Alzheimer’s deaths to be 18.9 per 100,000, around two-thirds of the nationwide rate of 27 per 100,000. Alzheimer’s generally strikes people in later life, and the percentage of people 62 and over in the District, 14.4 percent, is lower than the national percentage, 17 percent.

Still, the city should be doing more to help identify and treat people with the disease and provide support for family members and friends who care for them, said DCOA executive director John Thompson.

“We’ve done a great job caring for our healthy seniors and we need to do a better job caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease,” Thompson said, adding that his agency will be seeking additional funding for care and professional training as part of the city’s Age-Friendly City initiative, which was launched a year ago.

The rate of deaths by Alzheimer’s varies starkly across different parts of the District, according to the report, with Wards 3, 4, and 5 accounting for 66.7 percent of the city’s Alzheimer’s deaths. Ward 3 had the highest mortality rate, at 35 per 100,000, and Ward 1 had the lowest rate, 3.9 per 100,000. Larger populations of residents over 75 in Wards 3, 4, and 5 account for the difference, Thompson said.

Caregiving for Alzheimer’s patients happens largely under the economic radar. Around 70 percent of people with the disease live at home and are cared for by family and friends, who pay for it out of their own pockets, the report said, adding that institutional care costs around $110,000 a year for each patient.

The estimated cost of unpaid care, provided by 15.4 million people who are caring for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, was estimated to total $216 billion in 2012, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In the District, where about 9 percent of people 65 and older have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the estimated value of unpaid care was $368 million last year, up from $331 million two years earlier, the Alzheimer’s Association said. Alzheimer’s was the ninth leading cause of death in the District in 2010.

The report calls for greater collaboration among Alzheimer’s organizations and researchers and the dissemination of more information on the disease to District residents. It also calls for increased participation of at-risk residents in research trials and more training for government agencies and professional and family care providers.

Tara Bahrampour, a staff writer based in Washington, D.C., writes about aging and mental health.
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