‘From the Capitol’ Caring for Those with Alzheimer’s Disease

April 25, 2011

As Connecticut’s senior population expands each year, the need for elderly programs and services increases with it. In particular, the need for Alzheimer’s assistance has become a growing area of concern. Alzheimer’s disease affects nearly 70,000 seniors in Connecticut alone, requiring a tremendous number of caregivers and time.

Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia, can result in memory loss and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Studies have shown that between 50 and 80 percent of those suffering from dementia cases have Alzheimer’s disease. In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease, patients experience mild memory loss, but with late-stage Alzheimer’s, individuals lose the ability to carry on a conversation and even respond to their environment. Unfortunately, this is a very progressive disease which worsens over the years and has no cure. With the right treatment however, the effects of dementia can be slowed to improve the quality of life for both patients and their caregivers.

An important fact to note is that Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Those suffering with the disease live an average of eight years after their symptoms become outwardly noticeable, but some may live as long as 20 years after diagnosed, depending on age and other health conditions. Due to the variations in progressivity and the range on survival, each person has different care needs.

In order to provide for the growing number of individuals and families coping with Alzheimer’s disease and its effects, there are a number is programs in place that administer care and respite services. The Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders is a state and federally funded program that Connecticut residents 65 years of age and older may be eligible for. This home care program fits eligible recipients into one of the program’s three tiers to deliver the appropriate care. The Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders works to provide a litany of services and aid so that senior citizens, and those with Alzheimer’s, can age in place in their homes and with their families. Through the program’s assistance, individuals requiring temporary and limited care to those requiring intensive ongoing care are all covered.

The Alzheimer’s Respite Program is another service put in place by the state and works to support those family members and friends caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Connecticut seniors suffering from dementia must meet certain financial and physical requirement to be eligible for this respite care. The program was established with the understanding that caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease can be overwhelming and emotionally taxing. To provide vital relief to caregivers, the Alzheimer’s Respite Program offers daytime or overnight respite care services including: adult day care, home health aides, homemakers and companions, skilled nursing care or short term nursing care. By implementing a service like this, caregivers are better able to care for themselves and, in the long-term, are able to continue caring for a person with dementia helping them remain at home for much longer than otherwise possible.

In recent years ‘aging in place’ has become an increasingly important initiative, and programs like those mentioned above support exactly that. These services allow elderly to live out their lives in their homes and in the care of friends and family. These programs also come at a lower cost to all involved. Nursing facility care may cost as much as $60,000 annually and patients receive little to no Medicare coverage for that expense. Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders and the Alzheimer’s Respite Program support recipients at a much lower price for the same or often better quality of care, and are also partially funded through Medicaid providing financial relief to those using the services. Not only do services that center around ‘aging in place’ provide better elderly care, but they ultimately support our state’s taxpayers as these programs are less costly to fund than nursing home institutionalization.

Behind those suffering with Alzheimer’s disease and those tirelessly providing care, is a human message. Going forward we need to work together in our communities and in the legislature to start ensuring good programs that offer the kind of care we all want and can afford for our growing senior population.

For more information about Alzheimer’s disease I encourage out to visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org, or visit the Southwestern Connecticut Agency on Aging & Independent Living at www.swcaa.org.