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Use Alzheimer’s Awareness Month to Boost Awareness and Review Outreach Strategies

Living with Alzheimer’s disease is a daily challenge for patients and families, and one that becomes more complicated and harder to deal with over time. That’s why Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month is an optimal time to not only put some muscle behind outreach and education efforts, but also to look at internal strategies for ongoing patient and family support.

A Leading Cause of Dementia

Alzheimer’s month is a good time to raise awareness that Alzheimer’s is perhaps the best-known type of dementia, a broad umbrella of symptoms and behaviors that include memory, thinking, and behavior problems. It’s the most common form of dementia, making up anywhere from 60 percent to 80 percent of all cases. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 50 million people worldwide, and 5.8 million Americans, are living with this and other dementias. The facts are stark:

  • >Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and the fifth for those 65 and older.
  • Alzheimer’s patients typically live an average of eight years — but can survive for as long as 20 years depending on other health factors.
  • By 2025 — just six years from now — the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer's dementia is estimated to reach 7.1 million — an increase of 27 percent from the 5.6 million aged 65 and older who are affected in 2019.
  • Two-thirds of Americans over age 65 with Alzheimer's dementia (3.5 million) are women.
  • Approximately two-thirds of caregivers are women, and one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters.
  • Workforce challenges — It is estimated that the United States has half the number of certified geriatricians it currently needs, and only 9 percent of nurse practitioners report having special expertise in gerontological care.
  • The national cost of overall dementia care is estimated at $290 billion (not including unpaid caregiving) for 2019. Of that:
    • $195 billion is the cost to Medicare and Medicaid
    • Out-of-pocket costs represent $63 billion of the total payments
    • Other costs total $32 billion

Progressive Nature Of Disease Means Service Needs Increase

Because Alzheimer’s worsens over time, patients and their families often present with differing service needs. Where the disease’s progression has only just begun, there are medications and therapies to be explored. For more advanced cases, issues around in-home or specialized residential care are on the table, along with more intersections with care providers in various settings.

Early and continual engagement is important in order for treatment to be of maximum effect and the best outcomes to be achieved. That can be complicated, especially if the patient doesn’t have a strong family support network — and also if providers aren’t asking the right questions. The 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, a recent report from the Alzheimer’s Association showed a “significant disconnect” between seniors and their doctors when it came to cognitive assessment. According to the report, only 16 percent of seniors say they receive regular assessments, and less than half of physicians conduct a cognitive assessment as standard protocol for seniors.

Assessments and Early Detection Efforts Help

That’s not due to lack of awareness around assessments and their value: The report also found that both seniors and primary care physicians understand the many  benefits of early detection around cognitive decline. Some 82 percent of seniors said they believe it is important to have their thinking and memory checked, and 94 percent of primary care physicians said they consider it important to assess all patients age 65 and older for cognitive impairment.

The issue to remember during National Alzheimers Month seems to be that both sides are waiting for the other: seniors may assume their doctors know best, and so will take an assessment if it’s recommended, while providers may be waiting for that senior to bring up issues of memory impairment or other diminished capacities. Training, and more training is very necessary.

Healthcare Providers Need to Pay Close Attention to Patients at Every Interaction

An obvious takeaway for the provider side for Alzheimers month? Fold such questions into every interaction with this population, and also work to ensure that support staff in every setting, from physicians’ offices to hospitals to senior-living facilities, receives ongoing training the support they need to identify opportunities to speak with patients, evaluate those answers and report issues of concerns to the primary care team. A result of such measures will not just be safer and better cared for patients, it also will have the benefit of allowing staff to become more engaged with a sector of care that is only going to grow as America’s senior population does. As with any other healthcare area, providing staff with visible and valuable career pathways will help with retention and employee satisfaction, which also boosts patient care and produces better outcomes.

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