Meet the support system for Idahos 26,000 Alzheimers patients. They are, by and large, your neighbors.
Some 80 percent are women. The caregivers are themselves an aging cohort, with an average age of 59.
For family caregivers, this labor of love is physically and mentally exhausting labor. Fifty-five percent of caregivers devote at least 40 hours a week to home care.
This portrait comes from a study completed in August by the Idaho Alzheimers Planning Group. Its a window to what the future could hold for tens of thousands of Idaho patients and their loved ones.
Because, even if Idaho does nothing to change the way it addresses Alzheimers and other forms of dementia, one thing will inevitably change.
The number of Idahoans suffering from dementia is expected to increase rapidly by more than 60 percent in a mere 13 years. As the states population ages, the cost of care for dementia patients will only skyrocket.
Armed with its research, the Alzheimers planning group wants to convince the state to take the next step to address this looming challenge. The group wants Idaho to follow the example of 35 other states, and adopt a state Alzheimers plan.
This is essential.
Not because 35 states have a plan.
But because its the right thing for Idaho Alzheimers patients and especially the relatives who so often wind up caring for them. Too often, caregivers are on their own, balancing not only the rigors and demands of care but the complicated morass of Medicare and Medicaid rules.
Even in a state where people treasure their independence, caregivers shouldnt have to take on this heartwrenching responsibility on their own.
To their credit, the states elected officials have acknowledged the need for a plan. The 2012 Legislature and Gov. Butch Otter endorsed a resolution supporting the planning groups efforts from gathering data about the needs of patients, families and caregivers to recommending programs and strategies for addressing those needs.
Its a first step. It doesnt commit any public funding, however and that will be the tough step.
One way or another, we all will pay, and dearly.
When loved ones provide in-home care for Alzheimers patients, the demands of the task and the economic costs both are hidden. (The out-of-pocket cost of care is already $33.8 billion a year nationally.)
Government needs to be a partner, providing practical training and advocates who know how to navigate the health care system. Thats what patients and caregivers need in a state Alzheimers plan.
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