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Alzheimer's Population to Double by 2060; Is MT Ready?

Montana is considered a "neurological desert" because of its lack of specialists who can help people suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
Montana is considered a "neurological desert" because of its lack of specialists who can help people suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. (Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
December 11, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – The number of people with Alzheimer's symptoms will more than double in the coming decades. Is Montana ready for this dramatic increase?

According to a new study from UCLA, about 15 million Americans will have Alzheimer's dementia or cognitive impairment by 2060. Today, about 6 million Americans suffer from these symptoms.

Lynn Mullowney Cabrera, executive director of the Montana chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, says Montana's population is expected to age rapidly in the coming decades.

Unfortunately for those suffering symptoms of dementia, she says Big Sky Country is one of many states dubbed a "neurological desert."

"We have great expanses of state where we have insufficient numbers of geriatricians and other specialty providers, where we – like many other states – have primary care providers, just those folks that are on the front lines, that maybe don't have the latest in diagnostic criteria," she states.

According to the UCLA study, 47 million Americans already show evidence of susceptibility to Alzheimer's disease.

Cabrera says Montana is on the right track. In 2016, the Alzheimer's and Dementia State Plan was released. The plan is comprehensive and explores how the state can prepare itself.

Now, Cabrera says, the state will have to execute.

"As I've said in the past, there's no money, there's no teeth in it,” she stresses. “But it gave us a road map."

In part, the plan looks at ways to make the state accessible for people with dementia.

Cabrera compares the effort to making cities accessible for people with disabilities over the past few decades. She says family caregivers are the backbone of support, but that it's also important to find and retain nurses and nursing home workers to care for people.

"How do we enlist these individuals and entrust them and empower them to have positive experiences that then build on each other instead of negative experiences where they leave the field and we have far less than we need for capable providers?" she questions.

With this comes a hefty price tag. In 2017, caring for people with Alzheimer's cost nearly $260 billion, making it the most expensive disease in the country.

But Cabrera says the country can actually save money if it provides better community resources and prevents unnecessary hospitalizations.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT