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Plan aims to reach all affected by Alzheimer's

If you haven't already been affected by Alzheimer's disease, chances are you will. The number of people living with this devastating disease has risen by a third in the past decade, and as the population ages we expect that number to keep growing. Alzheimer's affects all of us — family members who serve as caregivers, the health care system faced with a growing number of patients, taxpayers, employers and, of course, those battling this disease.

Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging. It causes changes in one's memory, behavior and the ability to think clearly. It is the sixth leading cause of death in America, and the only disease among the top 10 with no way to prevent, cure, or even slow its progression.

Our goal is a world without Alzheimer's, but until that can be achieved, we must ensure people affected by the disease have the information and support they need. This includes an assurance that care and other services are delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible.

During the past two years, a diverse group of experts, public officials and people affected by the disease have been working together to craft a state plan for Alzheimer's disease. After considerable public input and discussions with a variety of stakeholders, the State Plan for Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementia is here.

The plan establishes five goals:

  • Enhance public awareness and engagement.
  • Optimize care quality and efficiency.
  • Protect individuals with dementia.
  • Improve access to quality care.
  • Comprehend, prevent, and effectively treat dementia and its impact.

To achieve these goals, there are multiple actions proposed by the plan that identify responsible parties, timelines and measurable outcomes. This will require continuous collaboration between public, private and nonprofit sector partners.

Since this plan was unveiled, there has been public confusion regarding certain elements including proposed requirements for state-designated caregivers. It was incorrectly reported that all family caregivers will be required to participate in Alzheimer's caregiving training, particularly those who can't afford a care setting.

What the plan actually suggests is a short training of court-appointed guardians to prepare these individuals for the challenges they may face in this role. A guardian is defined as someone who has been appointed by a judge to make care decisions for someone who is incapacitated. These decisions might be about where to live, what their care plan is, etc. Most people with Alzheimer's disease never have a guardian appointed.

Finally, it's important to understand that Alzheimer's is a physical disease and not a mental illness that requires psychological care. Treating this disease requires compassionate, thoughtful and thorough support regardless of age, ethnic background and financial income. Whether this care is accessed privately or through government assistance programs such as Medicaid, please know that support is out there.

We urge people to read the plan at www.oregonalzplan.org and let us know what you think.

Kathleen Cody is executive director of the Alzheimer's Association Oregon Chapter.