August 27, 2018
Central Massacusetts Health

Column: New Alzheimer's law puts state at forefront of dementia legislation

Jay V. Patel

Alzheimer's disease is swiftly becoming a public health crisis in the United States.

Every 65 seconds, someone develops the disease. Currently, 5.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer's, and that number is expected to more than double to 14 million by 2050. While the sheer numbers of individuals affected is staggering, so too is the nationwide cost of their care - $277 billion this year alone. That amount is projected to grow to $1.1 trillion annually by 2050. These costs will have a significant effect on society and families alike.

In Massachusetts, the rate of Alzheimer's disease or related dementias is higher than the national average. With more than 130,000 people affected by the disease, Massachusetts ranks 13th in the U.S. for the number of adults age 65 and older with Alzheimer's. In Central Massachusetts, 16 percent of residents over 65 have a diagnosis of dementia. The towns of Gardner, Webster and Templeton each have rates over 20 percent. At the current rate, our state will see a 15-percent increase in the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's over the next decade.

Action is needed. And once again, the commonwealth is uniquely positioned to lead by example.

With the leadership of the Alzheimer's Association, and under the stewardship of Rep. Danielle Gregoire and Senator Barbara L'Italien, the Massachusetts Legislature unanimously passed Alzheimer's legislation that ensures the state is appropriately prepared for this enormous healthcare and caregiving crisis. Governor Charlie Baker signed "The Mass Alzheimer's and Dementia Act" into law on Aug. 9, the first legislation in the U.S. that will result in the development of a comprehensive strategic plan, the necessary preparation of medical professionals and hospitals, and appropriate notification to family members when a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

For the past 20 years, Massachusetts has been on the forefront of healthcare innovation and of recognizing the role of family caregivers in our healthcare system. As an organization committed to supporting family caregivers battling this disease, Seniorlink and our subsidiary, Caregiver Homes, can attest to the significance of this legislative move. The Mass Alzheimer's and Dementia Act and landmark law will join the ranks of other important developments that recognize family caregivers, including the national 2017 CARE Act, which requires hospitals to train family caregivers on medical tasks that must be performed at home prior to discharge.

This groundbreaking legislation will change lives and is an important first step to preparing the state for this impending healthcare crisis.

Jay V. Patel is the clinical transformation officer at Seniorlink Inc. of Auburn.

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