Pennsylvania wants to develop plans to care for dementia patients

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Twenty-eight states have adopted strategic Alzheimer's plans to address what many view as the biggest scourge afflicting the elderly population, but Pennsylvania -- the fourth-grayest state in the country -- is not among them.

The Corbett administration is attempting to acknowledge the disease now with appointment of a broad Alzheimer's Disease State Planning Committee charged with producing recommendations by February.

If it completes its work similar to counterparts in other states, the committee headed by state Secretary of Aging Brian Duke will generate policies and goals related to issues such as better public awareness and early diagnosis of dementia, and how the state can better assist with support for caregivers and training of those who might interact with Alzheimer's patients.

Mr. Duke said that in terms of the senior population, "when you look at increasing needs you can't help but look at Alzheimer's disease."

The national Alzheimer's Association estimates that Pennsylvania has some 400,000 individuals with dementia, with the majority of those having Alzheimer's as the most common version.

While many receive some form of government assistance within the broad range of institutional and home care services delivered to frail older adults, Mr. Duke said the only dementia-specific funding is about $250,000 allocated annually for public awareness efforts of state agencies and two Alzheimer's Association chapters in Pennsylvania.

Two versions of a bill pushed by the association to create an Alzheimer's planning committee passed houses of the Legislature in the last session, but it stalled when neither version received final approval from both.

Gov. Tom Corbett then agreed to create and appoint the committee by executive order in February.

Among members named last week are representatives of the Alzheimer's Association, government agencies, long-term care institutions, research centers, home care services and senior centers. An Alzheimer's patient and a family caregiver were also selected.

Charles Reynolds, a UPMC/University of Pittsburgh geriatric psychiatrist who is the only Pittsburgher on the committee, views it as a chance to promote attention to "the burdens and challenges of being a caregiver," and what more the state can do for them.

Various states have focused on respite services giving caregivers a break as one aspect of their plans.

Randi Chapman, director of state affairs for the national Alzheimer's Association, said Pennsylvania is one of 13 states in the process of developing a broad plan, in addition to 28 that have done so in the past five years as national attention on the disease increased.

Association officials within the state hope the plan will lead to improvements among medical professionals in detecting the disease earlier, when drug treatments can be of help and caregivers can receive counseling or other assistance.

Ms. Chapman noted many state plans have also focused on dementia training in other fields, such as law enforcement, where workers may interact with those with the disease.

She noted that given budget limitations in most states, specific funding targets are not necessarily part of such plans. State Medicaid budgets are typically directly affected, however, by whatever needs Alzheimer's patients have, including nursing home care.

Mr. Duke said he doesn't know if any funding recommendations will come out of the committee's meetings over the next year, but he does expect a better handle on what resources already exist statewide on behalf of dementia patients and the best strategy to respond to anticipated growth of the disease, as the ranks of the senior population swell.

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Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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