[The following was submitted by State Senator Katherine Clark (D-Melrose).
Most of us know at least one person – in our family, our neighborhood or our community – confronting the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia among older adults. And beyond those individuals, this disease affects the lives of millions of family members, friends and caregivers.
In addition to the human costs and suffering, in 2012, the direct cost of caring for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementias was estimated at $200 billion, including $140 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid, according to the Alzheimer’s Association; these costs could skyrocket to over $1 trillion per year by 2050.
In the Commonwealth, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that the disease affects 120,000 residents and an estimated 350,000 caregivers and family members. These numbers are projected to increase significantly in the coming decades.
Any hope of reversing that trend will require continued investment in innovative research into Alzheimer’s causes and treatments. And at the same time, we must ensure that those suffering from the disease right now have the highest levels of care, including in the long-term care facilities many will require.
Last week, Governor Patrick signed a bill that would create minimum care standards for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Units in Massachusetts nursing homes. The bill, which passed the legislature in June, requires the Department of Public Health (DPH) to work together with the Alzheimer’s Association and the nursing home industry to develop minimum standards for care and training.
In addition to establishing regulations for minimum safety and quality standards for dementia care units in long-term facilities, the bill sets forth guidelines for the physical design of the units that can allow for dementia-specific activities and therapies. Nursing homes also will be required to provide information to consumers about the specialized services offered for patients with Alzheimer’s or related diseases.
This legislation was necessary and overdue. Massachusetts had been one of only six states without these types of regulations. They will help ensure that those living with Alzheimer’s disease get the care they deserve, and will provide some measure of support to their families.