By Sandy Alexander
WASHINGTON – The number of Alzheimer’s disease cases in Maryland will increase by more than 62 percent by 2025, as more baby boomers reach their 70s, according to a national report released Tuesday.
Maryland can expect nearly 130,000 people to have Alzheimer’s in 2025, up from 80,000 today, according to the report by the national Alzheimer’s Association. The report was based on Census Bureau population estimates and current rates of prevalence of the disease.
“We are going to have a lot of people with a growing list of needs,” said Pamela Causey, manager of public affairs for the Maryland Department of Aging.
“We see the demographics,” she said, explaining that state and local aging offices are looking ahead to the increased need for aging-related services.
The national association warned that a surge in Alzheimer’s cases could bankrupt the Medicare system, which spends an average of $7,682 to care for an individual with Alzheimer’s compared to an average of $4,524 for non-Alzheimer’s beneficiaries.
The wave of Alzheimer’s patients will also create a financial and emotional burden for the people who care for them. Family and friends provide care in almost 75 percent of cases, while most of the remaining patients receive professional care costing an average of $12,500 per year, the national group said in a fact sheet.
“Nothing is simple,” when helping someone with Alzheimer’s, said Ruth Fahrmeier, a board member of the Central Maryland Alzheimer’s Association.
The degenerative illness eventually causes confusion, personality and behavior changes, and impaired judgment. Fahrmeier, recalled how her mother, who moved from Niagara Falls, N.Y., to a facility in Sykesville, was stubborn about simple things because the disease impaired her memory and insight.
She refused to wear orthopedic shoes because she became fixated on a surgical solution for her feet, said Fahrmeier. She had to be hospitalized with an infection in her leg because she would not follow doctor’s orders after she fell. She insisted she did not have a memory problem, although it was clear to her doctors that she did.
Fahrmeier’s mother died of cancer before her Alzheimer’s became severely debilitating, but many individuals reach a state where they cannot care for themselves and require constant care.
Maryland has been doing “good hard thinking about what we need,” said Fahrmeier, a lawyer in Lisbon, Md. But “the challenge is to get funds.”
The Maryland Alzheimer’s Association is pushing to increase funding for a state program that reimburses families for up to 164 hours of respite care per year, said Donna Deleno, the group’s public policy director. Families can use the money to hire someone, including neighbors or friends, to care for an individual while the main caretaker runs errands, goes to a doctor’s appointment or takes a break.
Maryland advocates also helped develop uniform regulations for the growing number of assisted-living facilities in the state. The regulations, implemented last year, replaced a variety of standards and uneven monitoring from three different state agencies, said Deleno.
Now, nonprofit groups and state officials are trying to iron out remaining problems, such as making sure small facilities are not injured by the cost of the new standards.
Causey said the state applauds the Alzheimer’s Association’s efforts to increase funding for research at the national level.
The illness can be a drain on government and individuals’ resources, and Maryland supports any efforts to offset that, she said.
More than that, said Causey, “we don’t want to see anyone go through this disease.”